Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine from New York Artists Against the War

These two works stand in for any comment that I could make about the absurdity of Valentine's Day and the marketing of romance in a time of war. Meanwhile people continue to die in Aghfanistan, Iraq, Gaza, the Sudan and Darfur as well as elsewhere.
But the US election and the economy is all that appears in the newspaper. Narcissism is our main perspective and Valentine's Day only reinforces the idea of emotions as commodities in our culture.New York Artists Against the War infiltrate a Nivea spring garden with a more important message, in the middle of Times Square.

Valentine's Day Joan Snyder Blood On Our Hands, USA, 2003

Joan Snyder Blood on our Hands USA 2003 oil, acrylic, newspaper on board 16 x 16 "
Joan Snyder includes a photograph taken in Baghdad shortly after the Shock and Awe campaign of a mother holding her wounded child
Here is another work by Joan Snyder, "Boy In Afghanistan", 1988, 24" x 30") about a boy injured by land mines.

And a third below
Child, 1989, oil, acrylic, newspaper on linen, 8 x 12" It makes a reference to children who are starving.

This painting by Joan Snyder is called Modern Times, 2007. The image is full of agony and suffering. It reminds me of a late work by Arshile Gorky, with its elongated and disrupted lines and incomplete forms. The colors are oddly garish and pastel at the same time. There might be three main figures, and several smaller figures, bleeding, gaping, reduced to skeletal structures. The hollow eyes and mouths drip blood. Falling figures descend helplessly. To learn more about Snyder's way of working go to this website

Blood on our Hands USA connects in my mind directly to the iconic Code Pink action inside the Capitol building although it was painted several years before this confrontation at the Capitol building.

"the blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands" said the protestor to Condolezza Rice right before she and other courageous Code Pink members were forcibly dragged out of the hearing room by police as they shouted "war criminal"

Joan Snyder is right though, the blood is on OUR hands. It is our money and our government and our ridiculously passive Congress that is enabling the bloodshed.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Breach: A play about New Orleans

This is Kara Walker's August 27 2007 cover for the New Yorker, made one year after hurricane Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans. It refers to both the event itself, and its aftermath of false hopes, bungling, and outright racist greed for land ( via the tower in the distance) . It is called "Post Katrina Adrift"
Any art historian recognizes its source in Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, another story of government incompetence that led to death by drowning.
It is fascinating to see how Walker has closely followed and adroitly altered the original.

In the Breach, by Catherine Filloux, Tarell Alvin McCraney & Joe Sutton, the central narrative of the play is based on three people on a roof top who have to fight with gravity in order not to drown, each of them falls into the water that surrounds them and is rescued, until the final concluding scene in which two are drowned. The parallel to the Raft of the Medusa is inescapable also in the play. There is also a baptism providing an ironic purifying with the polluted water that surrounds this family.

The narrative on this rooftop, between a grandfather and his teen age grandson and small granddaughter ( who speaks through her adult self), includes the psychodrama of any life threatening place, replaying small tensions and large anxieties, ranging through emotions from happy to heartbroken.
It is set in the midst of New Orleans, but it is a classic piece of theater that rises above that specific event to be almost Shakespearean in its characters. It resonates with THE flood of the bible, with Michelangelo's Flood on the Sistine Ceiling, the story of Aeneas and Anchises, the elderly saved by the young.

Two other narratives, of an elderly alcoholic bar tender and a self proclaimed liberal reporter, who interact with the flood in other ways, one to confront his own death, the other to meet survivors who in their honesty and maturity confront the writer with his own limitations. He learns more about himself than about the disaster he is reporting. His only goal was to "expose the fiction" that the levees were deliberately breached. That pre planned agenda undid him when he was confronted with the realities of the people who had lived through this and other floods, the flood of life in general.

In the midst and moving through all of this is a figure of water, who shimmers and seduces all around her. Adding the mythical element reminded us that it was all a fiction, all a fragment of a much larger reality. Although the three playwrights continually spoke of "truth" as what they pursued, what they have really pursued is the reality that there is no truth, only human relationships.

Those human relationships of the play, today in the real world, continue to struggle against the larger forces which have now arrived to "rescue" them, by destroying their homes, and, as in so many cities, replacing low income housing with lucrative developments. The strong characters of New Orleans must continue to resist outsiders who threaten to inundate them, whether it is nature or the forces of capitalism.

The play's use of water as a dominant mythic presence also reminded me of Kara Walker's show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Katrina. She also emphasized the role of water "the story of muck" as she put it, by including Copley's Watson and the Shark an image of an almost drowning and Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream, both paintings of survival in the midst of the dangers of water (in both these paintings actual sharks- in New Orleans human sharks are circling).

Athena Tacha's Dead of Irak 1 drop = 1 dead

Dead of Irak, 2008
32 x 32 in.
Iraq map and glass microbeads 1/2 mm. diam. each (about 1 million)
Close up the separate small red shiny beads jump out at us, we can feel them physically on our skin, crawling on us, as a flow of blood, as a coming tide, it is our flow, the flow that is a tide of death, it comes from our bodies to the bodies of the Iraqis. It is covering the country except for a few small places. The blood as beads reminds us of the individual lives that are being destroyed paid for with our taxes, the blood as land reminds us of the land that we are poisoning
( as recently we dropped tons and tons of bombs on the orchards outside of Baghdad in order to "catch a terrorist cell", one house I think was the target. The depleted uranium that poisons the blood of the future generations of Iraqis, the poison toxic fumes that we spread with our weapons.

The artist Athena Tacha describes it as follows:
"It came out of my pain and sense of impotence for stopping the War. I had actually done in the past, on an off, political art (mostly activist about the environment), particularly during the Vietnam war On my website, look particularly at my Massacre Memorials ( and its statement, but here is another statement I made recently in a feminist context:

"...deciding to make public art IS a political act in itself. In 1970, instead of becoming a volunteer nurse in Vietnam, I personally opted to bring my art into the public domain and make it accessible to all (not just to the intellectual elite who goes to museums, or to the rich who can buy it). As I stated in my interview with Landscape Architecture magazine (which published the first important article on my public art in May 1978), I wanted to “bring art into the lives of people and endow it with a social function” (such as creating sensitively designed plazas, recreation parks, riverbanks, etc.)."

In a way I consider the Dead of Irak a sequel to the my Massacre Memorials of the early 1980s ."