Flat Land

An installation by Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse on the relationship between war and photography, memory and loss


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Memory
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy


Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Flat land: proxy wars, proxy bodies," an installation on photography, memory, and loss by Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse. On view at Slought from November 11 - December 31, 2011, and opening on November 11th at 6:30pm in conjunction with Veterans Day, the installation explores the visual culture of men and women at war.

The work featured in "Flat land" engages with a series of contemporary narratives concerning the citizen, soldier, family, and national history, as well as the particular archives that prompted Flat Land: the flat daddy pictures, the flat stanley pictures, and the attendant testimonials, captions, comments, and websites. In conjunction with the installation, the artists will engage in an evening conversation with Kaja Silverman and Brian Conley on Friday, November 11, 2011 from 6:30-8pm at Slought Foundation.

"Flat Daddies" are two-dimensional life-size cut-outs of soldiers that are carried through daily activities by families and friends back home, and "Flat Stanleys" are small two-dimensional cut-outs of a cartoon boy, sent by American school children on adventures around the world, sometimes even to war-zones. Fictional voice-over narrations tell of Flat Stanley's journeys around the world, from the White House to Iraq and Afghanistan, and of one mother's experience with her flat daddy. The installation and associated conversation with the artists build upon these themes in addressing the problems of heroizing and idealizing the military man and the loss of the father figure during times of war, as well as the attempt of families to develop surrogates in order to amend this loss. The project also explores the meaning and tropes of memory, memoir, and photography in times of war. Amidst the flatness of national discourse around war, in what way are "Flat Daddies" and "Flat Stanleys"—as proxy bodies and proxy images—emblematic of our perpetual attempts to reconcile the personal and the political?

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Since 1988 Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse have worked collaboratively on numerous experimental documentaries and installations. These works have been exhibited nationally and internationally, at festivals and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Biennial, San Francisco International Film Festival, Berlin Video Festival, Toronto, and World Wide Video Festival. In 2001 they received a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. Additional awards include a Creative Capital Foundation Grant and an Artists in Residence at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

Kaja Silverman is the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Chair of Contemporary Art, and the author of eight books: James Coleman; World Spectators; Speaking About Godard; The Threshold of the Visual World; Male Subjectivity at the Margins; The Acoustic Mirror;The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema; The Subject of Semiotics; and Flesh of My Flesh. Silverman's writing and teaching are focused primarily on phenomenology, psychoanalysis, photography, time-based visual art and literature, but she continues to write about and teach courses on cinema, and she has both a developing interest in painting, and an ongoing commitment to feminist theory. She is in the middle of writing a book about photography, called The Miracle of Analogy.

Brian Conley is a New York artist currently living in San Francisco. From radio performance to sculptural, research-based, and collaborative installations, Conley's artistic practice operates across the divides between science, art, and politics. His multimedia works inquire into biology, linguistics, and group behavior to construct new morphologies that humorously and provocatively challenge our perceptions of animality, violence, and consciousness. He has exhibited in Bitstreams at the Whitney Museum, Statements at ArtBasel, Becoming Animal at MassMoCA, and Insight/Out: Eight Americans at the Wanas Foundation in Sweden, as well as producing a commissioned work in residence at the ArtPace Foundation for Contemporary Art in San Antonio. Recent projects include exhibitions at Pierogi Gallery in Leipzig, Germany, and at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Conley is founding co-editor with Sina Najafi of Cabinet Magazine. From 2005-08, he was Chair of the Graduate Fine Art Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he is now professor.

"Flat Land's two video channels, presented on opposite sides of a hanging 'flat' screen, are concerned with stories of ideologically charged 'flat' characters—or rather character surrogates. On one side are the 'flat daddies,' the lifesize, waist-up, cardboard cutout photos of soldiers in military attire who substitute for daddies (and a few mommies) now at war. On the other side are the 'flat Stanleys' (on whom the 'flat daddies' were first modeled), who, as surrogate schoolchildren, go off on voyages of discovery, in this case specifically to visit the White House and then on to Iraq. The Stanleys' adventures are tracked through digital images sent back to children from sites along the way, while the daddies' vital role on the homefront is shown by their central placement in numerous family photographs. In both cases, the role of these visual proxies in the affective and ideological lives of their flesh and blood family members becomes one of the subjects of the piece."

— Irina Leimbacher, "Letting Down Our Guard: Finley+Muse and the Power of Disquiet"