Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Challenging the Conventional Memorial

Jim Gallucci, a friend and artist working out of Greensboro, NC has been developing a memorial for years now called “The Gates” that honors those who died in the September 11th attacks. Jim acquired several pieces of mangled steel from the World Trade Center site. He then asked people to send letters expressing their feelings, prayers, and condolences. He incorporated quotes from those letters into the sculpture, creating a gate of sorts- a repeating theme in his work. The sculpture also references the architecture of the building and hints at the tumbling debris. Conceptually, Jim captures many feelings in this work, the overall sense of mourning, the act itself, the sense of national (world-wide?) sadness and heartache.

So why has he not found a sponsor, someone to finish paying for its construction and a place for it to rest? It is not because of the lack of publicity- it has been featured in Life Magazine, Southern Living, and National Geographic. Not for the want of a good place to put it, it was on display for a time at the 82nd Airborne Museum in Fayetteville, NC. Not for it’s artistic merit. Many an aesthetically dead memorial exists around the country- most are poorly designed stone monoliths with little more attention paid to design than the font of the lettering. I think the reason why Jim has not found a home for his work lies in why we make memorials the way we do-even the bad ones- and how Jim’s does not fit into that mold.

Most memorials, even the great ones, are designed to exclude any visual representation of the event. Let’s consider the Lincoln Memorial, the grand-daddy of them all. Walking up the steps and peering up at the seated Lincoln and then turning to look out over the mall is a mountain top experience. But nowhere do you see a visual reminder of the tragedies of that war; the trenches filled with the sibling-dead of Confederate and Union soldiers is never referenced. Only the over arching nobility of the brooding, wise, Lincoln sitting as Zeus sat in his temple eons ago. That brings us to the Greek Temple surrounding Lincoln, it was not solely chosen to match to architectural decor of the mall. An alternate design considered would have made it a Pyramid to match the Washington Monument’s Egyptian roots. I think the Greek Temple was chosen because it visually spoke of the Greek’s passion for order, balance, and universal proportion. It works. I never feel better about my country, democracy, and the world than when I stand on those steps, reminded of our highest ideals, with the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. thrown in for good measure.

The Greek temple works because it makes our own the Greeks’ desire to find order in a world filled with chaos. In comparison, Jim’s memorial freezes the act of destruction, of chaos. This is not a criticism. I am only pointing out a difference in his work vs. the many other memorials we create. Look at the other memorials in Washington; the Vietnam Memorial (Maya Lin’s), the WWII memorial, the Koran Memorial, even JFK’s eternal flame. All of them erase the chaos and add in its place order. Maybe we need this in our memorials. Maybe we need to feel a sense of nobility, peace, and order in these holy places. But there is the rub; war and conflict are not noble, peaceful, or ordered. Just ask any veteran. Beneath my sense of awe when in these places sits a critic with an ironic smile. It asks “Why do we build memorials filled with our highest ideals to events that represent the worst in human nature?” Does creating such moments insure that the horror of the act will be forgotten and more easily repeated?

Jim Gallucci’s memorial challenges these conventions. It puts the chaos in our face. It quotes the broken hearts of all of us who lost so much on that fateful day. It includes a relic from the battle field. It captures the moment of collapse. This makes Jim’s sculpture good, even profound, art in my book- but maybe not the best memorial.

Maybe we all need to follow Jim’s lead and leap over the concept of the standard memorial to human conflict, making them artistic reminders of the chaos they really are- would we then work harder to make our highest ideals real and lasting?

Friday, November 23, 2007

What? Be Happy?

Vincent Fichard and Matthew Jones remind us all with this video that joy and happiness reside in being creative.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sheila Pree Questions What is Female Beauty

Atlanta based artist Sheila Pree is coming to Winston-Salem State University to share her art on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, 7 PM @ Diggs Gallery. "The Plastic Bodies series ... examines the authenticity of female beauty projected by media and advertisers, who create illusions of the body by way of technology. Pree's work presents an explorative portraiture of women transforming into dolls and evaluates projected images using the Barbie to create a mysterious visual of metaphors. " - from flier.

This event is billed as "Ladies Only!" My wife says my idea of going dressed as a women is not funny. In all seriousness, this is an important issue that Sheila and other artists are addressing. For a touching, tragic, documentary short on the subject check out this film made by high school student Kiri Davies.

Friday, November 9, 2007

This one is a heart breaker, too.

Iraqi children at play, photo by Hadi Mizban

As I look over the entries in this blog I see some pretty sad pictures, Hadi's included. I guess Michelangelo said it best when criticised about some tough imagery of his in the Sistine Chapel. He said "Make the world appropriate and art will soon follow."

This video is a real whopper too. One judge I use to decide to share something on this blog is whether it breaks my heart or lifts it up. Kris Kristofferson's song "In the News" does both. The images and words are a heart breaker. The song is mostly about the war. But there is something in his voice that lifts my heart. Maybe it is the age in it, maybe it is the restrained power and conviction or the wise lyrics. If God is a man, he sounds like this right now- old as the hills, and tired, so tired at our deadly games.

I write this just after having walked outside on a beautiful fall afternoon. God is out there too, smiling in the sunlight, giving us all a second chance. Watch the video, then take a walk outdoors- I hope that helps strike a balance.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Place a Candle in Protest

La Vela - The Candle Project launches nationwide protest against Immigrant abuse.

Weary and sickened by the growing anti-immigrant hysteria and the multiplying of cases of violance and abuses levied against undocumented immigrants, a grass-roots protest has been launched to spread the word that many American Citizens are against the current unfocused, mean-spirited, attempt to address our broken national immigration policy. By placing one electric candle in their window (or a digital one on their website or blogs) this holiday season, participants will signal to others that they are taking a stand against the hate and xenophobia growing in the nation.

A blog site has been set up to gather evidense of participation (photos and statements of participants) , to share evidence of abuse against undocumented immigrants, and spotlight other ways to take action.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Attend Talk on "The Social Responsibility of the Artist"

Drawing by Malaquias Montoya, titled: Cristobal Colon, Charcoal, 1992

Time for a field trip to Chapel Hill! Malaquias Montoya, artist and activist, is coming from the University of California Davis to speak on "The Social Responsibility of the Artist" Sponsored by the Latina/o Studies program at UNC and held at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History on Tuesday, November 13th, at 6PM.

Malaquias is a silk screen artist. Check out his work at his Web site. I have posted a few of his drawings here. Montoya will most likely give a lively presentation- his work looks passionate and wide ranging in content. Come and network with other artists / activists. I will be there.
Contact Maria DeGuzman, Director of Latina/o Studies at UNC, email: deguzman at for more information.

Untitled, Charcoal, 1996

Thursday, November 1, 2007

10 Years of Art for the Masses!

I've known Clark Whittington for years. Since 1997, he has been the constant energy and spirit behind the Art-o-mat phenomenon; converted cigarette machines that dispense small, one of a kind, art objects for reasonable prices. Always the encouraging couch, Clark has helped save the reputation of contemporary art- at least in my book. If you have ever entered a high scale gallery and been greeted like you trailed in sh** on your feet, then you will recognize the value of this user friendly approach to selling contemporary art. Clark has made the art world a kinder, gentler place by setting his machines up worldwide and selling art for at affordable prices. When I sold work through him, I would get a monthly check with my share of the sales, enough to buy myself lunch usually. Clark has a large community of artists he works with now and he splits the sales price between the artist, himself, and a donation to non-profits and children's art programs. All good. Clark has also been an inspiration to me over the years to never stop sharing what you love with others. Visit his website and consider joining his force of good artists, doing good worldwide! Congrats on your tenth birthday! May you never grow old!