As a background object, wallpaper is both present and “absent” within spaces in which it is installed. The wallpaper Counter-flow: “For Your Safety” (“Homage” to Erik Prince) responds to the underacknowledged "present but absent" activities of the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater, then Xe (pronounced “zee”) Services, and Erik Prince, the former United States Navy SEAL who founded it.[1] Under the Bush administration, Prince and Blackwater were awarded extremely lucrative contracts and worked with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan in both open and clandestine activities. Blackwater and other security firms provide the important service of guarding United States and foreign officials for the U.S. State Department and have performed undisclosed activities with/on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency (another organization that, like Blackwater, has a history of hiring retired Navy SEALs) and all three of which have been involved in various forms of intelligence gathering since the bombings of September 11, 2001. Since the Obama administration took office, Blackwater’s activities have come under greater scrutiny, although their subsidiaries reportedly have continued to work for the United States in Afghanistan and possibly in the border region along Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In an activity dubbed “counter-flow,” Blackwater contractors engaged in the practice of driving against traffic at high speeds, forcing other drivers to swerve out of the path of their oncoming signature black SUVs. (At least one driver in Iraq was killed in an accident that resulted as the driver tried to avoid being struck by a Blackwater vehicle.)[2] The title for this work derives from this practice, which also registers the “counter,” unlawful, or “extralegal” activities of which Blackwater contractors have been accused and in which, at times, they have been implicated. Like the (dis-)honorific wreath of Navy SEALs undergoing the practice of drown-proofing that surrounds the figure of Prince, he and his firm, however, seem to remain “drown-proof” and thus far immune from legal prosecution.


     1. In late December, 2010, Xe Services was reportedly sold to a group of investors known as USTC Holdings and continues to perform contract work for the United States government under its subsidiaries including U.S. Training Center and International Development Solutions. See Spencer Ackerman, “Despite Denials, Blackwater Still Working for U.S.,” Wired: Danger Room (blog), 21 January 2011, http://www. wired.com/dangerroom/2011/01/ despite-denials-blackwater-still- working-for-u-s/, 1 April 2011.   

     2. Majority Staff to Members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, United States Congress, memorandum, 1 October 2007, 2, 8, in The New York Times, http:// graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/ pdf/national/20071001121609.pdf, 24 February 2011.