seems to me in a class of its own. While the ideas are at first
glance conventional enough, the choice of media and location
are transformative. First, the figures- made of reeds, conjuring
up the Iraqi marshes and riversides everywhere, looking like
figures from Bruegel paintings, human but dehumanized, squashed
into unbearable postures, faces hidden, something between human
and vegetable. Kiki Smith but better? Then the river- the river
of life, the river of time, rivers everywhere. This river- the
Potomac, the most important river of all for global politics,
the one most ignored as anything other than a site for government
and a few cherry trees. I love the sense of floating downriver,
of something from the American hinterland, archaic and ignored,
but also of the present moment and the elsewhere. I love the
quietness of it- the lack of noise, such an effective message-
and lack of explicit accusation. I love the /timing- /that it
will last not long enough for watchers to become bored or distracted.
They will see the beauty of the forms and materials as well as
of the motion. And they will have to set that against the message,
which they must also search out. And this one is eminently stageable,
doable, and with the press corps and TV on hand it would be /seen/.
I'll come to Washington if this happens!
The stockticker of dead bodies. Like the Awad project, this
one exceeds its polemical inspiration and turns into something very
powerful. It works for me because the state of the market is right
now a topic of enormous anxiety- something that it obsessively /watched/.
So what happens when the content of the message changes- the names
of the dead, also updating every moment, posing questions of incalculable
value, loss with no profit (except for some)-- and when the site
changes- the side of the road, the middle of a city. This too is
a doable project. It can happen, and happen in lots of places.
The salt sculptures. Again, a simple and conventional idea- but
rendered new by the material, salt. Open to the weather and to vandalism,
vanishing sooner rather than later, this idea speeds up the fate
of all monuments, makes the mortality of commemoration itself visible
and tangible, and above all demands a response, probably calling
up considerable discomfort. And the forms can be made again and again
in different climates. The salt of life, the salt of tears.
Things like this have been done before (e.g. in Berlin re the Jewish
memorial competition) but this works brilliantly because it uses
existing monuments (ours) to image the currently dying (theirs) and
can be done all over the world, always at twilight. A powerful gesture-
also works at its best by showing video of ordinary life, leaving
viewers to make the connections.
The Uncle Sam pinball machine. A clever idea that is only
obvious once it has been done here! Also small scale- can be done
anywhere. Witty, but profound. What is 'chance' when the game is
framed by Uncle Sam and the only choice is made by others? The object
itself has an aura- the bright, cheery glamor of the penny arcade
here turned against itself but still subsisting as a challenge to
the viewer in the very mindlessness of our acceptance of the 'lottery'
of daily life and its incursion into what we think of as leisure,
Once again, conventional ideas put together in
a new and powerful way- the darkening of faces is brilliant and powerfully
estranges the genre of public performance art even as it makes its
polemical point. I think the incarnations of these acts in various
media (my space!) are also very powerful, and succeed well in blending
the one-off event with the project of a memorial through time. Eminently
Very similar projects with very similar virtues. Each combines
the randomness and more or less sameness or 'machine' repetition
of deaths (the x marks, the tiny silhouettes) with an enormous labor
on the artist's part to record them, to make them slightly different
while looking much the same, to mimic in the space of peace the real
time of the space of war. Each must also find a way to 'show' how
their task cannot be completed or exhibited completely in the time
of now. These allude powerfully to familiar conventions of both format
and exhibition, but do something different. Austere and classical
on the surface, even formalist, but carrying life and death within.
...and Alyssa Wright, the exploding
backpack. Crams lots of ideas and references into a very simple gesture
(as along as the technological part can be set up!). Takes the (security)
anxiety about backpacks as a clever way to suggest that what they
contain really does require our attention! And they can explode anywhere.
Superimposing Baghdad on Boston, two river cities with 'old' traditions,
is very smart.