art matters november 2001

artists pick up 911

When the going gets tough, the artists get going, or do they?

By Steve Heimel


e all sense that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were a blow against our culture.  But can we truly defend our culture? are we capable of a response to this in cultural terms, through our art?      One artist who has no problem coming up with her response is assemblage artist Angela Ramirez.   Asked about the need to turn out art responding to the horrors of the 11th, she says " now more than ever."  Having grown up in a tatoo parlor, with black velvet paintings, she is entirely at home with an outsider posture, producing an art that is critical of the western culture.

     Other artists feel inadequate in the face of this cultural challenge.  "I haven't written a thing about it, except some journal entries," says Rob Lecrone, an actor and part of the Loose Affiliation writing group. "It is working its way into our play, in the themes we're dealing with." The play deals with ideas such as "tolerance, and do we know our neighbors".

     Not surprisingly the biggest sentences spoken about the terrorist attacks are coming from those who deal with language - the participants in the poetry slam on October 12, and those who organized a workshop on "writing from the heart" last month.

     Allegorical painter Don Ricker says he has done "nothing much" on the subject yet, but he points out that his painting Martyr's Dream, which was in the All-Alaska Exhibition last year, dealt very literally with the theme of Islamic suicide terrorists and the heaven they dream of.  Pink flesh, comic strip vividness. "Some art dealt with it before it happened.  It can be eerie," Rick said.

     It will take our artists a while to tap deeply enough in themselves to find the strong note they want to sound.  And then we will have to see if society is in any condition to hear that note.

     An open exhibition quickly declared by the Decker-Morris Gallery for art responding to the plane crashes drew a pitifully small response.  "Anemic,"  said Don Decker, "the room's almost empty.'  True, the few pieces submitted are deeply felt, but they are few.  They tend toward the narrative, spelling out their stories.   Fish skins charred and exploded, birthday candles melted on duck decoys, ina row, on a stretcher.  A torn collage flag still bearing scraps of imagery from the magazine pages it came from, shattered glass, explosions. Reminders that the people we lost were real.  It is an exhibition of phrases, rather than sentences.

     Don Decker said he did some private drawings on the night of the 11th, which he was hesitant to make public, but ended up including in the annex show.   He also hung up some red, white and blue cloth to fill the room more.  Such are the responsibilities of the curator.

     The earliest creative responses to the huge cultural challenge thrown down by bin Ladins forces have sprung up in the realm of folk art, consisting of such things as singing 'God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch, or commercial responses such as Flight 93 underwear, a local auto dealer's "red, white and blue" sale, the new altered bad boy decal.


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