Mercy Killing Aktion

Artist Statement

New suite of 16 photographs and texts will be exhibited at FACT in the UK in Spring 2015. Click here for details. “MERCY KILLING AKTION, Quintan Ana Wikswo’s trenchant interdisciplinary investigation into the sites of massacres and other atrocities, is a vivid reminder that art no longer serves religion, but is progressively supplanting it in terms of ritual and sanctity.”
(Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic) 
What is the experience of conflict between governments and geopolitics, and their attempts to police and control the “problematic” body? In MERCY KILLING AKTION, Quintan Ana Wikswo explores clandestine sites where state-sponsored programs conducted biosocial crimes and human rights atrocities against female, queer, disabled, ethnically-, and psychiatrically-targeted communities. These programs serve to police, to intimidate, and to push the body of “the other” into an place of invisibility.

Today, these events remain silenced and the facilities obscured, yet the reverberating impact on contemporary human bodies and psyches continues to resonate. The three verbs of MERCY KILLING ACTION act as provocation, question, and commentary on the music of these spheres.

The artist uses damaged, broken, and salvaged cameras, typewriters, administrative and industrial materials manufactured through forced institutional labor.  These materials become unexpected tools to subvert the secrecy, censorship, silencing and suppression surrounding how the state defines normalcy, and the institutions it uses to control, contain and eliminate those whom it deems abnormal.

My maternal grandmother was disparaged for saying her father escaped an institutionalized clandestine medical sterilization and eugenics project in the late 1950s. In 2009, I located the site: the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded. After photographing ruins and unmarked gravesites, I was detained for questioning by the Virginia State Police: How did I know? Who would I tell? Months later, I returned under State Police escort, and was allowed to take botanical photographs only: each shot requiring frame-by-frame approval and authorization.

At post-atrocity sites, three elements communicate the trauma: the human body, the architecture, and the ecology. By inhabiting unmarked institutional, domestic, and ecological sites for several months, I question the motivations with which landscape is altered and structures built and destroyed in the decades and centuries following these crimes, and seek to interrupt paradigmatic, didactic narratives of identity and memory around these events. MERCY KILLING AKTION examines how the forces of ecology and architecture disguise tangible evidence of atrocity and trauma.

This multi-year, interdisciplinary body of work will construct new, renegade sites for encountering, creating and mapping an alternative body politic. In content and form, I integrate a disparate range of media and instruments to construct a conceptual, psychological, visceral encounter that disrupts and undermines hegemonic storytelling and conditioned social response to trauma. MERCY KILLING AKTION archives, transposes, translates and teaches site-specific trauma vocabularies of images, words, movements, and sounds – transforming the voyeuristic “tourist-witness” encounter into an engaged “catalyst-empath” relationship.

Because documentation of crimes against humanity is primarily journalistic, I consciously manipulate the visual and textual language of beauty, aesthetics, aversion/attraction, repression/memory, emotion/denial, and abstraction to subvert the habitual portrayal of human rights crimes. Through physical distortions in my images, sites are re-conceptualized, dislodged from traditional representations and contexts.

I hope to question, illuminate, and render visible the ways in which states use institutional architecture and ecological obstruction to conceal systematic disenfranchisement of marginalized communities. I hope to challenge the resulting power of states to control identity and define membership in society, especially via institutions for medical, psychiatric, and social care. I hope the project validates those who survived, resisted, or witnessed these policies.

Lastly, I hope the project helps establish the power of politically-engaged artmaking to question the psychosocial programming that encourages aversion, fear, and apathy when individuals and societies are confronted with uncomfortable or traumatic witnessing and resistance.


MERCY KILLING AKTION is a project of Creative Capital (2013 Grantee in Emerging Fields). Other supporters include the City of Munich, FieldshiftFURTHER, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Montalvo Arts Center, Millay Colony, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Catalysis Projects/LA, Ebenböckhaus, and Oberpfalzer Kunstlerhaus.

Performances, exhibitions and presentations include: the Berlin Jewish Museum, Jewish Museum Munich, Yeshiva University Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, California State University at Fullerton, Dixon Place, Pete’s Candy Shop, SEEDS Brooklyn,

In the course of three years, I am grateful to share the MERCY KILLING AKTION project with a core team of well over fifty active collaborators that currently includes the following:

Presenters/Exhibitors: Jewish Museum Berlin, the Jewish Museum Munich, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Yeshiva University Museum

Funders: Creative Capital, the Center for Cultural Innovation, ARC/Durfee, and the Puffin Foundation

Residencies: Yaddo, Djerassi, Anderson Ranch, Millay Colony, Ucross, Dragon’s Egg, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Oberpfalzer Kunstlerhaus and Ebenböckhaus

Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, Cilly Kugelmann and Zachary Levine

Keller Verlag (catalog publishers)
Tin House, WITNESS, Ploughshares, Trickhouse, Denver Quarterly (magazines)
Rob Spillman, Deborah Poe and Noah Saterstrom (editors)

choreographers: Alexx Shilling, Manfred Fischbeck
composers: Arthur Kell, Isaac Schankler, Pamela Madsen, Andrea Clearfield, Veronika Krausas
musicians: Arthur Kell (contrabass), Andrew Tholl (violin), Gloria Justin (violin), and many more.
voice: Anna Lisa Blöth, Dorothea Seror, Rozalie Hirs, Uljana Wolf, Amber Benson, Rafael Liebich, Annette Aryanpour
dancers: Shayna Keller, Mimi Yin, Chey Chankethya, Sarah Young, and Sarah Jacobs

Eric Grush (post-production)

Dorothea Herreiner (German), Uljana Wolf (German), Rafael Liebich (Portuguese)

Ute Herreiner, William Gross, and Joanne Jacobson