San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The House of Osama bin Laden: Closer Than You Think

AFGHANISTAN may be thousands ofkilometers away, but cross the threshold ofa converted historic home in San José andyou’ll be transported to The House ofOsama bin Laden.The ominously named multimediainstallation by renowned British artists BenLanglands and Nikki Bell made itsAmerican debut Jan. 28 at the TEOR/éTicagallery in downtown San José, and standsas an invitation to revisit a country that hasbeen alternately reviled and abandoned.Commissioned by the Imperial WarMuseum in London and first shown in2003, the works are the result of the artists’two-week visit to Afghanistan, documentedin still photos and video.Brits Langlands and Bell, who begancollaborating on works in 1978, train theirartistic and digital eyes on this almost biblical,mythical area and its reigning symbolof evil – Osama bin Laden. But don’texpect rapid-fire CNN cutaways or subtitleshere. The artists work with a focusfirmly set on architecture and spaces andhow they reveal relationships.“Our idea is not to propose a politicalpoint of view,” Langlands says. “We revealstructures wherever structures are.”WHILE the exhibit as a whole is aslight departure from their past floor plansand furniture, the interactive title piece,“The House of Osama bin Laden,” drawsheavily on signature themes.“People are always fascinated by buildingswhere famous or notorious peoplehave lived,” Bell says.Here, the empty structure is meant totrigger a response. For instance, the houseunder the oppressive shadow of binLaden’s absence becomes a metaphor forthe world’s collective consciousness. Wasbin Laden ever there? Was he a necessaryhuman invention?As visitors use a joystick to navigatethe sandy countryside and Spartan rooms,they’ll encounter several powerfulabsences, particularly the lack of adrenalineand violence usually associated withthe video-game technology that generatedthe computer model of the house.Those who venture behind the gallery’sdark curtains become spectators of thedusty-robed, cracked-wall murder trialentitled “Zardad’s Dog.” The images run ina constant video loop; keening voicesbecome an instrumental soundtrack to thesentencing of a wild-eyed Afghan prisoner.In a third area, blue-and-white flags heraldthe projection of dozens of non-governmentalacronyms, their meanings as intermingledand cryptic as the organizations’interests themselves.“We are very conscious of the proximityto the United States, and the presence ofNGOs here in Central America,” saysLanglands, noting that this proximitymight possibly influence the installation’sreception here.NGO themes are not the only conceptsto hit close to home; Central America isalso no stranger to being dumped by themedia.“In the 1980s, Central America was inthe eye of the storm,” says Virgina Pérez,founder and director of TEOR/éTica.“Then when the peace process began, theworld’s attention shifted. There’s no conflict,but there’s still suffering. InAfghanistan, it’s the same thing, and a‘symbol of evil’ (Osama bin Laden) wascreated.”With perceptions like these, and thevery nature of the subject matter, it seemsthe exhibit cannot be disentangled frompolitics. Events such as the withdrawal ofthe video from the London installation toavoid potential interference with the localtrial of an Afghan prisoner, and the loss ofthe Turner Prize – the most prestigiouscontemporary art prize in the UK – to afilm based in George W. Bush’s home stateof Texas, invite political commentary.“(The exhibit) has provoked a lot ofthought, and the occasional hostile reaction,”Langlands says. “I put it down toconfusion and an unwillingness to changeways of seeing things.”“Langlands & Bell: The House ofOsama bin Laden” is at TEOR/éTica (400meters north of the Parque Morazán kiosk)until Feb. 25. For more information, call233-4881.

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