Upon being appointed Dictator of the Roman Empire in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar had a large basin dug near the Tiber River. He filled it with ancient battleships and 6,000 prisoners of war, who were instructed to fight to the death as they re-enacted famous battles. Caesar called it a naumachia, and it was meant as the ultimate display of his wealth of power.
French artist Vincent Debanne doesn’t think the naumachia of our times will be held in basins or amphitheaters, though. As a commentary on the growing wealth inequality, Debanne’s digitally modified paintings imagines a modern day naumachia, in which the yachts of the ultra-rich go to war is to slake the boredom of their owners.
“With the Battleship series, I wanted to evoke the display of power performed by the super rich in the exclusive centers of world yachting,” Debanne told We Make Money Not Art in an email interview.
Using the real-life yacht gatherings of the ultra-rich as aquatic coliseums, Debanne’s modern-day naumachia is performed not just to slake the boredom of the rich, but to communicate wealth and status to the hoi polloi, just as it would have been in ancient Rome. To create them, Debanne digitally modifies photographs he has taken of yachts on display in St. Tropez and Antibes to exaggerate what he sees as the inherent violence of wealth.
“My photomontages give me the opportunity to reveal the violence of economic war,” Debanne says. “These boats, with their aggressive designs and evocative names–each bearing the flag of their offshore havens–are already very impressive, but through photo manipulation and montage, I can make their warrior appearance even more obvious.”
The idea that the wealthy might actually start going to war with one another with their multi-million dollar yachts might seem far-fetched, but to Debanne, it’s the obvious next step. The rich already spend enormous amounts of money to one-up each other with longer, bigger yachts. Is it really that implausible that this psychological war between the ultra-rich could become physical?