He does the art, we do the suffering

'He was the West's leading anti-war artist. There was only one snag. He hadn't stopped a single war'
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The Independent Online

Today we bring you a very modern story about art...

Today we bring you a very modern story about art...

Desmond Wigg was a modern artist in the sense that he had a particular message and didn't particularly care what medium he chose to communicate it. His message was that he was against war. He had suffered cruelly in the Gulf war and the war in Bosnia and in many other modern wars, not so much by being there and getting bombed or shot at as by sitting in front of his television and hating what he saw. He had never experienced war personally, but as he often said, you don't need to starve to death to be against hunger.

His first major work was called Getting Caught in the Crossfire and showed a lifelike effigy of an Israeli soldier firing at a Palestinian terrorist, who was firing back at him. In the middle there was a life-sized shark, which was bleeding to death from the bullet wounds inflicted by both sides, symbolising the way in which even a feared animal such as the shark is a hundred times less deadly than an armed human. The critics loved it.

For his second major set of works, Wigg moved away from the lifelike models that characterised his first period and made anti-war videos. He was so disgusted by people's indifference to suffering that he resolved to get through the suffering barrier.

"What is the suffering barrier?" he asked in a BBC 2 interview, back in the days when artists were still interviewed on BBC 2. "It is the refusal of people to admit that people besides their immediate relatives also suffer pain. Everyone knows about the pain of their mums and dads, the suffering of the people they visit in hospital. They never think of the victims of a foreign war as being other people's mums and dads. What I want to get across in my video is the fact that everyone who is killed or maimed is precious to someone. That is why I videoed the death of my father."

By that, Desmond didn't mean that he filmed his father's quiet passing-away. What he meant was that he shot his own father - and filmed him being shot. The fact that the shooting turned out to have been faked, in the sense that his father didn't actually die and collaborated in the deception, didn't seem to detract from its impact.

After five years of anti-war art, Desmond Wigg had explored such media as figures, video, painting, sculpture, street theatre and performance art. Everyone agreed that his work was startlingly original, especially the stunning kinetic display in which a bullet was fired at unpredictable intervals from one end of a glass case and travelled inexorably across the enclosed space to pass through a rabbit hutch, there to hit or maybe not to hit a living rabbit.

Onlookers spent hours on tenterhooks waiting for the death of the rabbit. This, said Wigg, symbolised the random way in which wars impinged on the innocent bystander, though others might have said it symbolised the way people liked to see rabbits being killed.

By this time, Wigg had become known as the West's leading anti-war artist. There was only one snag in all this, as far as Wigg could see. This was that however successful as an artist he was (and he was really quite rich by now), he was not very successful as an anti-war propagandist, in the sense that he hadn't stopped a single war or persuaded anyone in a war to give up arms. Although very successful, in other words, he was also a complete failure. That might have depressed a lesser man, but Wigg was only driven on to invent further conceptual anti-war works of art.

His most publicised creation was a work that he entitled The Suburbs of Baghdad. Maddened by the way the West still bombarded ordinary civilians in Iraq and made them suffer for Saddam Hussein's sins, Wigg determined to show ordinary British citizens just what that involved.

He installed a rocket-launcher in a derelict part of the East End and announced that he would be bombing a nearby deserted housing estate. A great crowd turned up to see the performance. Unfortunately, the first rocket misfired, failed to hit a house and fell near the crowd, injuring two people quite badly. Wigg was arrested and put on trial. He is now doing two years inside for minor war crimes.