14 September 2009

Veterans' Flame (Krzysztof Wodiczko) ~ On the Possibility of Political Art

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Veterans’ Flame, 2009.
Photograph © Michael Marcelle/Creative Time.

This post is for those who, like me, live in the hinterlands. The cool, cosmopolitan folks in the big cities will already know. Or should.

Krzysztof Wodiczko
designs projections that operate at the intersection of democracy and trauma. They aim to afford the chance for those silenced by trauma to find their voices. And in this sense they are about navigating public space, even where this involves, by incorporating silenced or marginalized voices, re-defining it. There was a terrific interview with Wodiczko (conducted by Patricia Phillips in Art Journal) a few years back that explores these themes with great insight.

Wodiczko's latest project is called Veterans' Flame. This winter (starting November 4th) his work will be on at Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston (details here). Right now (through 20 September) his projection is part of the Creative Time sponsored group show "This World and Nearer Ones" on Governor's Island in NYC (details here).

From the web page of current show in NYC we are told the following:
"In Krzysztof Wodiczko's Veterans' Flame, the image of a candle flame moves with the recorded voices of veterans sharing accounts of war and its aftermath in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wodiczko conducted the interviews in April 2009, interested in having his subjects explore, through the act of remembering and retelling, the complex psychological space between the battlefield and their homes. By appropriating public buildings and monuments as surfaces for projections in his work, Wodiczko has focused on the ways in which architecture reflects collective memory, history, and the loss of life. Here, Fort Jay's silent chambers are once again filled with the voices of soldiers, and a monument to history's conflicts becomes a place to contemplate contemporary accounts of war and longing."
There is a brief clip of Wodiczko discussing his hopes for the work available on line.



I find this pretty remarkable and thoroughly political. It ought to give pause to those who too readily identify political art with partisan art or with didactic art. Once we learn to make such distinctions, all the regular, usually sanctimonious, pronouncements about how art and politics should never intersect begin to look as hollow as they, in fact, are.

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