Sean Snyder’s Index at the ICA is the first showing of a work in progress through which the artist is exploring and transforming his own vast archive of material relating to war, propaganda and the dissemination of political ideas.
The first part of the show is a glimpse into his working practices and his exploration of data as raw material to be reproduced, edited, manipulated, corrupted or destroyed.
Snyder reveals elements of his archive and their various forms from physical matter to abstract ideas. At one end of the spectrum close-ups of the grooves and textures of analogue data sources make for abstract photographs resembling some kind of interference malfunction like snow on a television screen; some are on whiteboards recalling evidence in a criminal investigation. Clinical photographs of the material forms in which data is stored – CDs, paper files, electronic hard drives – again hint at the idea of evidence.
As we reach the level in which the content of the data comes into play, Snyder plays with importance of context, or the lack of it. Seemingly random collections of images are captioned only with ambiguous files names; in a Soviet propaganda film on educational art exhibitions in the Ukraine, the makers’ methods and intentions are obvious if somewhat crude, while a piece of film of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan was produced for reasons that can now only be guessed.
Intriguing as these dislocated scraps of data are, the bulk of the show does more to reveal the obsessive nature of Snyder’s processes than infect us with his passion. Moving on to, Casio, Seiko, Sheraton, Toyota, Mars, however, the austere, monotone feel of the show gives way to a fast-paced edit of photography and footage from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here we are presented with a vision of information being processed and packaged into palatable forms for mass consumption and traded on a global market.
With the previous works fresh in our minds, we cannot fail to be sensitised to the complex process of research and editing that has gone into the making of this film. With its voiceover and charged subject matter you could almost, in another context, take this as a piece of political commentary. But the sequence that Snyder has constructed seems to follow the almost organic flow of the data itself. Textbook photojournalism is deconstructed. Brands involved in the production of images of war or represented in them are reeled off, and a trail of dossiers, articles, advertisements and official statements is followed along paths that refuse to differentiate between content, form and context.
Trying to keep up with the barrage of information and its complex implications in this final film, suddenly the rest of the show doesn’t seem so bland. It not only allows for a more reflective space, but contributes a powerful argument that in abandoning the need for explicit conclusions in favour of exploration, conceptual art can make an important contribution to the contemporary debate around the war of images.