“DEMENTED” By Kenny Cole, 2009.
Since becoming president, Barack Obama remotely authorizes one drone-missile firing into Pakistan per week. According to the Long War Journal, a non-profit military tracking organization, 102 missiles have been fired into remote parts of the country this year alone, causing 699 deaths (98 percent reported to be "Al Qaeda/Taliban operatives"). This is just what we know: the country's other drone missile program is CIA-operated; its proceedings are entirely covert.

"The Hellfire Story" is a tough pill to swallow. Consisting of 300 text-based placards and frames separated into two sections within SPACE Gallery, Bangor artist Kenny Cole's work contains vital artistic interest without exactly being fit for full consumption. In the foyer, 125 framed brush-and-ink images track the drone missile from its early 1960s inception to its deployment today. With droll, caustic wit and a fastidious hand, Cole's images ironically commemorate these milestones according to a series of politicized stylizations. His work doesn't present information as much as bludgeon his audience with it. This artistic bombardment presents obvious parallels with the subject matter, but the sheer volume of the work contains another virtue still.

To borrow an allegory from Borges, the Internet is the Library of Babel of our era. It contains tons of relevant information, but that information is only useful if you know exactly how to look for it. In similarly overwhelming fashion, "The Hellfire Story" replicates this trick. Each frame is flush with boring, legalistic text that either wraps around or obscures some distracting semi-relevant cartoon drawing. Though rendered in legible brushstrokes, Cole's text is utterly unmediated, lacking punctuation and line breaks. Frankly, it is a chore to absorb. Despite knowledge that it offers useful information about national practices of contentious ethics, it's as headache-inducing as reading the customized MySpace page of your reclusive uncle.

As if shining a light into his own labyrinth, Cole has circled (non-lineally, Chutes-and-Ladders-style) letters in each frame to form words that parse each image to its pithy, bare-bones message. In a piece detailing test missile firing in California circa 1980, Cole circles "ANATHEMA," "TORN," and "NUT." In an image containing dozens of unmanageable words bifurcated by a blood-red thermometer, Cole has formed the phrase, "DEMENTED PIRATE OGRE PARTIES." At its most base, it's an obnoxious assertion of subjectivity telling us how to interpret otherwise unremarkable art.

And therein lies its genius. In a universe where devastating and incriminating facts are irrepressibly available in abundance, it suddenly depends on a subjective overhaul, a willful assertion of ethical belief to employ those facts to fit cultural standards. To take a recent example: by revealing as he did in his recent memoir that he authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture on Gitmo detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, George Bush somehow didn't indict himself. Neither does simple public awareness that he violated international criminal law indict him, nor does that public awareness, apparently, strengthen or validate international law. In the vast field of ethical relativity, decoders and arbiters are necessary, and Cole, however importunately, is doing just that.

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