The myriad connections between sex and war have always been a ripe topic for artistic exploration, from Homer's portrayal of Helen of Troy to the soldier boy porn site activeduty.com. At North Portland's Rocksbox gallery, German artist Benedikt Ender contributes a frenzied, X-rated, and bombastic vision to the Eros/violence genre with World War III: The General of Freedom, which is as ambitious and provocative as any gallery show you'll find in Portland this year.
Three rooms are in play at WWIII: The front gallery is split between a twisted vision of a soldier's makeshift barracks—littered with thousands of porn clippings and makeshift soldier dummies, each bearing gaping anuses and Ender's face—and a faux-recruitment center for the artist's War of Freedom. A mural reads, "We are fighting for the freedom of the planet, the freedom of mankind, and the freedom of art." Next to it is a drawing of a woman ejaculating.
The gallery's middle corridor is a series of connected tents that the viewer must crawl through to watch Ender's three videos inside. Also within: tons more porn, war magazines, a strobe light, black lights, and a mind-rattling soundtrack of automatic gunfire. This assaultive, overwhelming tunnel can be read as both the birth canal (the vaginal references are explicit), and the archetypal hero's journey (see, again, the Iliad).
Once through, the relatively spare back room is dominated not by the monstrous, inflatable camouflage sculpture of lumpy blobs clinging to the wall, but by the deafening roar of the air compressor that inflates it. The bulbous beast feels like an abstraction made real: the Force of War, an intimidating, cancerous, and howling monolith, largely untouched by the chaotic and pornographic "war" in the rest of the gallery.
Did we arrive in its relatively calm and clean presence because our participation in the gun-happy, dick-tugging war allowed us access to the inner sanctum of power? Or did it make us accomplices to that evil? The noisy lure of flashing lights, fisting pics, and gunfire can't be entirely to blame for our corruption: We considered Ender's recruitment pitch with open eyes before making the decision to see what lay in that sordid corridor.