Importantly, for Helnwein, art responds to the violence of the world by
raising the right type of questions and not colonizing the imaginary with
fixed interpretations. Helnwein’s Disasters of War 13 is a compelling example
of this. This unsettling and provocative image depicts a blood-soaked, innocent,
white young girl. Given the artist’s definition of the function of the
work, we might ask what questions this image raises? Consciously disrupting
familiar representations of casualties of war, the questions we might hear
arising from the work echoes: What if it was your child? What if this was
your daughter? What if this was your neighbor? What if this was you, or
what if it were I? This is not about shocking the spectator into submission.
Nor is it simply the mirroring of experience to bring about certain empathy
or produce a shallow and sensationalist response. It is to bring about a forced
assimilation with the unassimilated, to face the intolerable, so that it viscerally
registers as such.