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John Neff (Chicago) is one of three artists commissioned by photo MIAMI 2008 to create a solo installation at the fair. Neff’s new multi-media project mixes pictures of male bathers with images based in his ongoing series of photo works depicting a naval history of the United States in the late twentieth century.

The bathers, large-format cyanotype prints, are presented on the specially constructed transparent exterior wall of Neff’s exhibition booth. A jpeg of the blast-scarred hull of the U.S.S. Cole floats on a computer screen inside the dim booth, a space furnished to resemble a makeshift workshop. Cyanotype renderings of news clippings about the Cole bombing provide further nautical imagery.

Two audio files play simultaneously on the computer that presents the Cole image. Father, can’t you see I’m burning?, the project’s title, refers to a Freudian dream recounted in a lecture excerpt from philosopher Slavoj Žižek discussing relationships between wartime violence and personal traumas. The other audio element is drawn from a video chat originally webcast on the military-themed gay porn site Active Duty; the porn performer makes frequent references to water, swimming, and drowning.

The work’s audio-visual juxtapositions suggest that private and public, personal and political, events and identities are not just interpenetrated but actually constitutive of one another in contemporary American society.