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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Art That’s Not All About Us

Posted by on September 12 at 13:01 PM

On Q13 Fox News yesterday, an anchor praised the life-sized salt sculptures that Michael Magrath placed in Occidental Square as eloquent commemorations of the “pain of 9/11,” poignant memorials to the devastating losses Americans suffered that terrible day.

What a sickening crock.

Magrath made sculptures (see this week’s Suggests) of suffering Iraqis, not suffering Americans, you Fox News jackasses.

His sculptures may be traditional in form—they are realistic, life-sized figures—but their timing, appearing on the morning of Sept. 11, makes their message totally transgressive: Stop crying in your soup about what happened five years ago and start facing what your government did with your grief and anger, and what you let it do.

Every day is 9-11 in Baghdad,” Magrath told KING-5 news, the only outlet that really got it right.

You’d think this was obvious, even heavy-handed, but no.

Even the P-I whitewashed the project, with this weird paragraph that tiptoeingly turns fact into opinion: “Magrath said that although he believes that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq is now linked to those attacks because our government ‘used those attacks as a justification’ for the war.”

Um, he “believes” Iraq wasn’t involved in Sept. 11? Yeah, crazy, silly Magrath. Everybody knows Iraq was … oh, wait.

And Magrath’s assertion that Sept. 11 was a justification for the War on Terror, in which Iraq is the major theater, needs to be distanced from fact—and from the P-I’s delicate sense of “objectivity”—by being placed in quotes?

Wow, no wonder Magrath felt compelled to make this piece, and no wonder he had no trouble finding volunteers willing to work with him through long days and nights over months. No matter how obvious the manipulation gets, we’d rather distract ourselves with a few good old-fashioned photographs of the World Trade Center burning than consider the outrageous irresponsibility of the violence we continue to sponsor in the name of Sept. 11.

Magrath was none too pleased to hear Q13’s description of his installation when I called him this morning. I’ll just let him talk.

I don’t know how to go about redressing that kind of misstatement. It’s only about Sept. 11 in that the pain that people felt at the time (of 9/11) was directed in a really inappropriate way as some sort of futile revenge toward innocent people. Like saying, ‘Oh, they’re all Arabs, so it doesn’t really matter.’ And ‘We’re going to kick someone’s ass,’ which is pretty much a classic American response. It’s very convenient (for a government that is hawkish) and has geopolitical strategic interest in that region. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the oil—that’s survival—but the whole point of the sculptures was trying to draw a direct correlation that we would be re-inundated with images of people covered in ash walking down the street, and those would be super-powerful, people that we honestly feel great sympathy for, who are our fellow Americans, but we are not seeing the images of those people who are in exactly the same situation on a daily basis based upon our actions. It is about that blindness. (Sept. 11) has become sacred ground, and to me, that sacred ground is, I don’t know how to say it, is dangerous, because it is too easily manipulated. And we need to understand that, yes, Sept. 11 was a massive tragedy, but to unleash that same tragedy on other people every day in a nation 6,000 miles away—that’s a crime. I don’t know how else to point that out to people who aren’t going to see that. It requires really admitting that you were wrong, that you were duped, and it’s a very hard thing to do. I’m willing to bet we’re going to scapegoat people up high, instead of saying, why didn’t we have our eyes open? All of that is hard to get into a sculpture.

But Magrath did get it into a sculpture. And he got the sculpture installed publicly. And he spoke about it honestly. He did his job. We have to do ours: to think about what’s in front of us, instead of our own convenient fantasies.

Because the pieces are made of salt, they will melt in the rain. They’ll cry. When we think of them, if all we can think about is ourselves, then they’re crying for us, because not only we are doomed, but we’ll deserve whatever we get.

Magrath had an interesting proposition about what an appropriate response to Sept. 11 would be, so I’ll just share:

We should have put a $1 billion reward on the head of Osama bin Laden, brought him in front of the world court, and tried him with evidence we had. Within three days, the world would have gotten down on its knees to us, and we would be the most powerful moral force in the world for the next decade. I hate to say it, but George Bush would have been a god. But instead, they responded with a kneejerk, who-can-we-kick response when this other way would have been such an obvious answer. It’s such a Christian answer. To try someone and forgive him is the ultimate Christian answer, and a true Christian would have done that and truly stuck to his principles. Al Qaeda would have been isolated, would have shriveled on the vine. Since that’s so obvious, why didn’t they do it? Is there an interest perhaps in having an Al Qaeda and having Osama out there? And I think finally that’s pretty credible when you start thinking about statecraft and how large populations are managed to do what we want.

CommentsRSS icon

I get what he's saying, but put Osama on trial? Seriously? I don't think so. He has to die. If Bush won't hunt him down and kill him, the next President will have to in '08.

Exactly. If he doesn't die, we might find out how closely connected our current Administration is with him, and how they knowingly helped al-Qaeda persist, both in financing and by their actions.

There's more of a link between al-Qaeda and the Bush Regime than there is between al-Qaeda and Saddam. All three are disgusting, of course.

Oh come on… If we would just sit down with Osama and his colleagues, and talk about how they feel, and promise to stop being such assholes, all this could be worked out and we could have just forgiven 9/11 as a reasonable mistake that we had coming to us…

A note, Jen... anchors are by and large not very intelligent people. My best friend works in TV news, and somehow, someway, I spent far too much time, for someone with no real interest in TV production, in TV studios and in the company of those who helped make TV news.

They are paid to sit in front of the camera, look good and read off a teleprompter. Take anything they say with half a grain of salt.

How about putting him on trial, presenting eveidence sufficient to find him guilty, and THEN executing him? Sure, it's old fashioned, but just killing him lets the secrets stay secret. Dead men don't talk.

People - yes, he has to die. After being put on trial. This message about moral high ground and righteousness is sailing right over your heads. This is why we are where we are today.

Osama will never be caught -if he's even still alive now. He's like Emmanuel Goldstein from 1984 - a vessel for the mouth breathing morons of this country to focus their rage and hate on while the Republican crew rapes us economically and constitutionally. They need Osama and the fear and hate he generates because they will never survive politically without him.

Holy fuck- I love this entire post. Both Graves and Magrath hit shit square on the head.
Enough w/ the 'on no - he has to die RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!' Texass horseshit that got us where we are today - having squandered any global repoire we gained by getting ourselves attacked in the first place.

Constitutional rape, maybe, but economic? I feel more like they have made long slow attentive love to me economically.

You know what REALLY was like 9/11 every day? World War II. On average, 2500 American soldiers died each day of America's participation in that war. 2500 A DAY. Fathom that.

Um, Gomez, you're off by a factor of more than ten. According to USCWC, the US had 292,131 troops killed in action, in 44 months of war, for 6,639 killed in action per month, which is about 221 per day.

um, economic? all I can say is my Euro stocks have SEVERELY outperformed my US stocks since Bush took power.

Results matter. Not lies about results.

And I think Gomez is thinking of the War in the Pacific, when our casualty rates WERE that high. Germany was a lot easier.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

The number of US troops killed per day in the Pacific was less than the number of US troops killed per day in the entire war. This is simple math. The Pacific War, for us, started a few days before the European war did, and lasted three months longer, and fewer men died there.

In point of fact, US combat deaths were significantly higher in Europe and the Atlantic than in the Pacific -- 182,070 to 106,270.

Gomez, Will - really. Maybe it's because my Dad and Uncle were WWII vets (European branch) so I grew up hearing about it, but I can't believe you would make such naive assumptions about causality rates and the relative "easiness" of the Euro war.

6.1 MILLION soviet soldiers died in that war (and just so you know, they were our ally then)660,000 Polish Soldiers died, and 357,000 British soldiers died.

There were many other nations involved, of course, but they were particularly hard hit.

Yeah, the numbers I see show a total of over 400,000 US deaths, nearly all of those military. Perhaps you're looking at one front out of two?

There were 292,131 combat deaths in WWII,("combat" is people killed in combat, or as a direct result of wounds suffered in combat) and 115,185 "other" deaths. ("Other" includes deaths from disease, privation, and accidents, and includes losses among prisoners of war.) that's about 400k. or 6,639 per month (221 per day)

If we lost 2500 people per day for 44 months (the length of WWII), that would mean we would have had 3,300,000 casulties in World War II (based on a 30 day month). Gomez was only off by 2,900,000.

Which is not to say that Iwo Jima and Midway were not horrific battles with unbelievable casualty rates. But Patton's bastards did not have an easy time of it by any means.

My granddad fought in the Pacific -- by which I mean he went to parties, dances, and horse races in Brisbane, Queensland while waiting to mop up after the real fighting in New Guinea and the Phillippines. His diary and scrapbook make for fascinating reading (though my grandmother was less than amused by the number of ladies on his dance cards, which he saved).

Where can I see pictures of these sculptures?

It sounds like the number of allied troops (not just American) killed daily in WWII vastly exceeded 2,500.

Well, 62 million people died in all, or 2.5% of the population of the earth.

jen. i relate to this post for many reasons. i even noted it on the vc newswire. however, concern hits my brow at the sweeping use of the word 'Us' in the title. to me the usage not only implies exclusion of iraqi citizens in the united states (who may have family and certainly friends in iraq), but also implies that all united states citizens are the kind of desensitized, self centered, and presumably white-bush-associated-nationalists that the rest of the post works hard to debunk. the memorial depicts specific victims of a misdirected war. misdirected wars, wars in general, and victims of both are a devastating human theme that even those of 'Us' who are not iraqi can mourn. does being lumped in with the 'Us' implied in the original post dictate that the only people entitled to this kind of reaction to the artwork are iraqi citizens? certainly they are the subjects depicted, but is the intent of the artwork simply to create more division by showing 'Us' off as unforgivably forgetful, or, is the intent to evoke empathy on some basic human level? am i really personally (personally, meaning artistic intent aside) meant to see these figures, walk away, and forget them? if all the year-round press surrounding iraq, 9/11, and other unrelated-but-related figures and factors tells 'Me' anything, it's that the 'We' in the title have not forgotten. not reaching a 'Solution' does not equal forgetting.

M., great to see you here. Your point is taken. I was more referring to the "it's not all about you" attitude than trying to demarcate a broadly defined class of people. More specifically, I was (bracingly) pointing out that when selfishness fueled by grief goes unchecked, it becomes a kind of self-perpetuating sclerosis and even a moral blind spot.

well spoken, and, if anything, the phrase does capture one's attention to read (rewardingly) forward.

Gitai,
photos of this work both installed and as it erodes can be seen at http://lotstribe.typepad.com/lots_tribe/

And Jen, semantics aside, you are right. This is not a memorial about us. It is for all of us, certainly, (and all that implies, m.) But mostly, it is for four individuals who did not recieve a million dollars in compensation for their loss and suffering, individuals who no doubt suffer today while we carry on our debates, individuals who one day will turn to us, asking for justice, in one form or another. This memorial may simply be a small attempt to answer them.

Gitai,
photos of this work both installed and as it erodes can be seen at http://lotstribe.typepad.com/lots_tribe/

And Jen, semantics aside, you are right. This is not a memorial about us. It is for all of us, certainly, (and all that implies, m.) But mostly, it is for four individuals who did not recieve a million dollars in compensation for their loss and suffering, individuals who no doubt suffer today while we carry on our debates, individuals who one day will turn to us, asking for justice, in one form or another. This memorial may simply be a small attempt to answer them.

Gitai,
photos of this work both installed and as it erodes can be seen at http://lotstribe.typepad.com/lots_tribe/

And Jen, semantics aside, you are right. This is not a memorial about us. It is for all of us, certainly, (and all that implies, m.) But mostly, it is for four individuals who did not recieve a million dollars in compensation for their loss and suffering, individuals who no doubt suffer today while we carry on our debates, individuals who one day will turn to us, asking for justice, in one form or another. This memorial may simply be a small attempt to answer them.

Gitai,
photos of this work both installed and as it erodes can be seen at http://lotstribe.typepad.com/lots_tribe/

And Jen, semantics aside, you are right. This is not a memorial about us. It is for all of us, certainly, (and all that implies, m.) But mostly, it is for four individuals who did not recieve a million dollars in compensation for their loss and suffering, individuals who no doubt suffer today while we carry on our debates, individuals who one day will turn to us, asking for justice, in one form or another. This memorial may simply be a small attempt to answer them.

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