Arts Art That’s Not All About Us
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.