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Monday, October 22, 2007

War Zone

posted by on October 22 at 14:15 PM

This fall, with the post-Vietnam photography of An-My Le and the post-Vietnam sculpture, video, and drawing of Kim Jones, the Henry Art Gallery is a war zone.

When Jones returned from the war, he burned rats to death in two art performances. “That’s what we did in Vietnam,” he said.

Terrible idea, to say the least.

And here’s another Henry artist heard from: When light artist (and Quaker) James Turrell (who has a Skyspace at the Henry) returned from Vietnam, he worked as a peacenik—and it put him in jail. From David Pagel’s LA Times story:

Before Turrell had made a name for himself as an artist, he was drafted, served in the military and returned to the West Coast, where he began graduate studies in art at UC Irvine. Turrell the Vietnam vet became active in the peace movement, working on a committee that provided information and counsel to conscientious objectors and other draftees who opposed the war.

Informing citizens about their options was perfectly legal. Encouraging them to take any kind of action was not. “We knew better,” Turrell recalls, “than ever to try to convince someone to take a particular path because then you are party to a crime. Of course it is true that we were trying to get people off as conscientious objectors, if they came anywhere near meeting that kind off criteria or even perhaps stretching the criteria.”

It was 1966. Turrell had graduated from Pomona College the year before with a bachelor’s degree in perceptual psychology. He was a 23-year-old Quaker advising 18-year-olds from all walks of life. “You might be surprised,” he says, “what you say over a period of six months. There was a couple. I took the woman to be the man’s mother. She was not. She was an FBI agent.

The 18-year-old had not been receiving notices sent by the government. But the letters, Turrell says, “were made up. Everything [the couple] said was in truth a lie, and they just wanted to find me saying one thing—that I thought he should do this. I was positive I never had, I told my lawyer I never had, and then they had a tape of me out in the parking lot and apparently I said this is what he should do. And that was enough. I was arrested and served time in prison. They essentially convicted me of a treasonable offense.

In a wide-ranging conversation at Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, Turrell’s Santa Monica gallery, he concluded the story of his incarceration by saying, “I don’t think a democracy should have a mercenary force that is voluntary because it becomes very much like a banana republic, where the military is actually a political arm. I mean, these are total Pollyanna kinds of viewpoints, but I subscribe to them. And art is another one.”

RSS icon Comments


Darn, I only skimmed this at first and got all excited that Turrell was coming back to the Henry (in addition to his permanent, of course)

Posted by Lake | October 22, 2007 2:24 PM

If I want to learn about Vietnam, and their never-ending traffic jams, I'll ask my Vietnamese colleague who works in the same office as me.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 22, 2007 2:25 PM

Kim Jones belongs in fucking jail. Vietnam was not an art project, and Jones is not an artist; he's an animal torturer.

Posted by Fnarf | October 22, 2007 3:08 PM

@3 - so he's got a White House Thousand Points Of Light arts grant?

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 22, 2007 4:32 PM

Pomona College represent!

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