For the past two decades, London-based artist Suzanne Treister has been watching the watchers—surveying the various intelligence organizations, cults and visionaries with their eyes on us or the future. At Alma Enterprises, she presented a kind of global roadmap resulting from her years of research into conspiracy theory. The installation, titled MTB [Military Training Base] (2009), consisted of a large ink and watercolor topographical map and what Treister calls “three video training demos.” Mounted on three walls of the gallery, the 5-by-17-foot map, composed of five panels, includes 53 hot spots, indicated in sketches: sites real (Stanford Research Institute, Monsanto Centre) and fictional (“Psionics Research Centre,” “International Corporation of Lost Structures”); urban centers (Manhattan, London and East Berlin); and amalgams such as the “Halliburton Buildings” and a “Prisoner of War Camp” (Camp Marfa, once a World War II internment camp and now the site of Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation). All of these locations, according to Treister’s extensive project notes, represent “designs and ideas for a hypothetical military training base of the future,” and all involve mind-control operations, though some with ostensibly positive societal goals.
Conceiving her names and notes with sly wit and chilling perceptiveness, Treister includes references to esoteric thinkers such as the behaviorist Stanley Milgram, New Age futurologist Jim Channon and the Unabomber, whose Montana cabin-lair is documented in one of the videos. The accompanying 37-page project description (also downloadable at ensemble.va.com.au/Treister) provides historical references and links that flesh out in detail the bizarre activities of the “participating” organizations. Fanciful locations include an “Art School” housed in the bunker at the Bentwaters Cold War Museum; the “Cathedral of Erotic Misery,” whose structure looks something like Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau; and the “Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality” [IMATI], the headquarters of Treister’s alter ego from past projects, the time traveler “Rosalind Brodsky.”
The loosely rendered drawings at various sites are labeled for cross-referencing with the written descriptions, which offers an experience akin to browsing a multilayered website. With an overall structure divided into three broad areas collectively called the “Israeli West-Bank Barrier,” the map has numerous comical juxtapositions and details, enlivening the viewer’s navigation through the work: the “Museum of Sex” is next to Vatican City; the “Museum of MK ULTRA,” dedicated to the history of a real CIA mind-control and truth-serum operation, is housed in a building based on the design of New York’s New Museum. Treister’s cartography is a contemporary Anatomy of Melancholy, tracking the dreams of paranoiacs and conformists.
Photo: Suzanne Treister: MTB [Military Training Base]: Wall Drawing (detail), 2009, black and colored ink on paper, 5 by 17 feet overall; at Alma Enterprises.