Container project is a reconstruction of an atrocity that took place in Northern Afghanistan, the massacre of thousand of Taliban prisoners of war by the Northern Alliance, directed by the American invasion troops. Taliban war prisoners were put into container trucks. They were kept without water and air for several days during their trip through the desert. When they started begging for air, the Northern Alliance troops fired upon the containers “in order to make holes for the air to get in”.

We went trough the process of reconstruction in Belgrade, Sydney and Armenia. Analyzing the process of reconstruction of the crime happened in Northern Afghanistan we realized that all the tools we were using to reconstruct this crime (buying a container, hiring professional police units to riddle it with bullets, weapon and bullets itself etc.), the simulated conditions – all point to the setting of a local participation in the system of global network of violence. In other words, the true object of war – the bulled-sprayed container – through the process of reconstruction places the simulators right in the middle of a reality of the use of violence in the environment in which the reconstruction takes place, and reveals the marks of local crimes and points to a hidden network of relationships in the production of violence.

CONTAINER photography by other means/index of the permanent war


One of the strategies as a part of my praxis is reconstruction of the crimes, mass killings. It is very much about reconstructing specific politics responsible for negating, denying, erasing and hiding. This project attempts to investigate different strategy forms of using a concept of dislocation as a tool. The very act of dislocating an object, or people and events from one place to another, produces a crevice  within the event itself, because its ‘repetition’ in different contexts represents the impossibility of its repetition. It makes visible and establishes an unexpected, surprising network of relationships. In other words, this gap becomes a document of the involvement of people, events and objects in crimes at the place of dislocation.

The right to a public discourse about a crime is always delegated to the state and international organizations that declare an act to be a criminal one and build a narrative around that crime. This very right to a narration confirms and defines power of the state over its citizens and their life. My question governing projects you are about to hear, was: What if I, as an artist, reclaim the right to question the state’s right over narration about a crime, and, therefore, take the right to proclaim, reflect, textualize, and determine what constitutes a crime?

In that sense, a question arises of how to create (within the field of art) a public forum that could investigate objects, events and people at crime scenes, as well as public forums for discussing war crimes, genocide, rapes, and ethnic cleansing. In that case, a forum could be a place where mechanisms of harboring terror become visible and public. This brings us to the FORENSICS that can be seen as both, the investigation of objects, and the creation of forums where evidence is being presented.

“CONTAINER– Reconstruction of the Crime”, which is a reconstruction trough dislocation opens a space for such a forum. However, in order to situate this work, I have to say a few words about the context in which it was created.

This particular reconstruction is about a crime that is a symptom of politics of the permanent war against terrorism. This new type of war introduced specific mechanisms of criminalization, and it also redefined particular ethnic and religious groups and states outside of the law.

This project is an attempt of reconstruction through an object that remembers. In this project, a container enters into this process of reconstruction of the crime.

The crime that I refer to, was committed in Maazar i Sharif, in the Northern Afghanistan, in November 2001 when thousands of Taliban war prisoners, who surrendered to the Northern Alliance, controlled by the US Army, were loaded into the sealed truck containers. They were deprived of food, water, and air for the duration of the several-day drive through the desert, to the Sheberghan prison. When they started begging for air, the Northern Alliance troops opened fired on the containers “in order to make holes for the air to get in.” Those who survived were subsequently (sab-sekventli) shot and buried in mass graves. The public announcement about this massacre appeared in the media only two years later. NOT A SINGLE IMAGE OF THIS CRIME APPEARED IN THE MEDIA. But there were eyewitness reports, and there is a documentary by the Irish filmmaker Jamie Doran. So we assume that there is no direct visual trace of this crime.

The idea was to produce the non-existing war image, and to produce a fake, fictional image of  this event.

In order to achieve enough reliable conditions, a “photography production design,” necessary to create the “a non-existing photograph,” we had to go through the process of reconstruction of this massacre in order to make holes in the container by using real weapons. The first reconstruction took place in Serbia, in Belgrade. We found an institution in Serbia where it was possible to get “the shooting service”. It was the sports club called “The Policeman,” a place where employees of the army and police socialize and practice shooting. We brought the container in front of this mound, and three professional shooters, using Kalashnikovs and special bullets, taking turns, shot at the container. They received monetary compensation for a private service, and did not ask anything. After this, we moved the container back to downtown Belgrade, where we photographed about 100 people entering the container.

We now had a series of photographs, but I realized that, behind these photographs, more valuable material has gone during this reconstruction and this led my project in a very different direction.By removing the photographs, a possibility opened to follow the process of reconstruction, and by tracing back of the history of the weapons and ammunition necessary, and each object, person appearing in this reconstruction of the crime that took place in Afghanistan, the networks of military, economic and political relations, which appeared active during the process of reconstruction and begun to tell us its own criminal story.

We realized that the shooters were at the same time: shooters/sportsmen, policemen and military people. We had to use the automatic weapons, the Kalashnikov, weapon powerful enough to use special ammunition that has the impact intensity enough go through the thick container metal, was the bullet AK-47/7.62 x 39mm. The bullets were produced in 1988 in the former Yugoslavia, in Bosnia, and right after that, in 1989, have been moved to Kosovo, where they were used during the war, until 1999, when the Yugoslav Army brought them to Belgrade, following the retreat from Kosovo. These were the same bullets used to kill demonstrators in Kosovo in 1989; the same bullets were used when bodies of killed ethnic Albanian civilians in freezer containers were transported from Kosovo to Serbia and later dumped into the Danube river.

We were confronted with a series of questions which concern the origin and usage of bullets.

The fact that we have reconstructed the crime in a new setting and giving up photography, or representation, we achieved insight that, during a crime’s reconstruction in Belgrade, another crime became slowly visible and fully real, the material of crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Furthermore, the material with which a re/construction was done began speaking for itself, bout the connections between military, economic and political factors involved in war crimes, massacres committed by the state where the first reconstruction was done – Serbia.

Repeating this reconstruction, that is, the conditions of shooting into the container, in different countries and states produced different scenarios. During the reconstruction of this crime, it is the state that defines under which conditions it is possible to penetrate the container, and this is the moment where this particular artwork takes place. At one end, we have a modern state which have the sovereign rights to use the force and at the other, the ways in which this right gets distributed.

In Australia, The only professionals who accepted shooting at the container were kangaroo hunters, so called roo-shooters. So, in Australia, it was possible to perform the (re)construction only on the private property, by hiring private professional forces, which is reciprocal to the main contribution of the modern permanent war on terror, a this new form of war, the war that is privatized and subject of the “out-sourcing,” renting private people who wage war, private agencies that today provide security for the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to private prisons. The bullets we were using, were the same that were used by the Australian army in fighting the US-led war in Iraq. Xe Services LLC still usually referred to as “Blackwater”, is a private military company founded as Blackwater USA in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. Blackwater has a wide array of business divisions, subsidiaries, and spin-off corporations but the organization as a whole has courted much controversy. “Blackwater”, company is still under contract with the State Department and some Xe personnel were working legally in Iraq at least until September 2009.

During the reconstructions in Guymri, in Armenia, we were faced with a total weapon ban. In Great Britain, this artwork was only possible within the BBC studios production, or another option was to take the container out of the country, and return it perforated to Great Britain.

Container in Gyumri as a living space

This artwork, the reconstruction, tests relations, and constructs, actually makes visible, the military, economic, and political network of relations which produce violence.

At the same time, this work points at the ways in which this local network participates in a global politics of war.

The process itself is able to reveal the material networks of the politics of war and violence. And to reconstruct specific politics responsible for negating, denying, erasing and hiding. Trough performing, exhibiting Container in a specific context, in front of the audience, the relationship with the community and everyday life is being established.

1.    As Performative Object

2.    Unpacking the content of the reconstruction of the crime, analyzing the process and objects that appear and are specific to the reconstruction on each site. This content includes all documentation (objects, visual, audio, writings) of the process as well as “biographies” of the objects which are used and that appear during the process of the reconstruction. These biographies are tracing life histories of these objects, in other words, their genesis, their usages, maintenance through specifically created method as archival work, questioners, interviews etc. Trough exhibiting newly build relationships that are becoming visible, construct a completely new “container”.

5 comments on “CONTAINER
  1. […] Milica Tomic, “Container” project Container project is a reconstruction of an atrocity that took place in Northern Afghanistan, the massacre of thousand of Taliban prisoners of war by the Northern Alliance, directed by the American invasion troops. Taliban war prisoners were put into container trucks. They were kept without water and air for several days during their trip through the desert. When they started begging for air, the Northern Alliance troops fired upon the containers “in order to make holes for the air to get in”… ‹ Previous Post Superquadra casa-armário (Super-size block wardrobe-size house) […]

  2. […] earlier this month in Turin, i left one project aside. I was so interested by Milica Tomic‘s Container that i decided to take some time to document it more […]

  3. antigonia says:

    […] Container, de Milica Tomic […]

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