Every image of the past that is not
recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens
to disappear irretrievably.
- Walter Benjamin, "Theses on
the Philosophy of History"
As we have heard on so many occasions
now, everything has changed since Nine-Eleven. This exhibition
is no exception, for its inception preceded the catastrophic
events of that day. The subject and the content of the
show, suddenly, took on meanings that we could never foresee:
a prophetic vision.
Although driven by catastrophic episodes
in history, these works respectively transcend time and place,
and speak more to a universal human condition. They collectively
utter the seemingly immutable pernicious quality that lines
humanity, a figure that shadows all of humanity's advances.
These works mark axial moments in history, where ebbs turn
to flows, where tidal currents in humanity suddenly change
course. They simultaneously announce how quickly these
axial points fade from our consciousness.
I refer to this show as a collection
of catastrophic moments, not so much because of their cataclysmic
nature, but rather, because of the word's more archaic meaning.
The word "catastrophe" originates in ancient Greek drama, where
a play would take a sudden (tragic) down turn. The catastrophic
instance in Attic theater marks the point at which a character,
discovers the truth of their situation. The catastrophic
instance is the pivotal moment in the play, at the cusp of
catharsis. Subsequently, catastrophe in this context pertains
more to human revelations, a recognition of our own constitution.
The works exhibited here, then, are catastrophic in the sense that
they mark points of discovery.
None of the participants of this exhibition
have first-hand knowledge of the catastrophic episodes
they catalog. Rather, these are drawn from cultural depositories
of knowledge, from what they have heard (or did not hear)
from their parents or grandparents, from visiting sites
charged with history, from visiting sites that should be
charged with history. The work presented here illustrates
these pivotal moments, and the sites where they took place.
Some are literally grown over with weeds, others are reclaimed
by the banality of everyday life, but all of them attempt to address
the erasure of cultural and personal memory. An urgency
surrounds the Nine-Eleven impact sites (especially the World
Trade Center site), there is a passionate desire to never
What Nine-Eleven has done, to one degree
or another, is to imbue these works with new connotations;
these connotations are not just on the order of cognition,
but enter the domain of experience. For now we know something
of an abject experience, one that makes us sick at the very
thought of it. One that is not only known through testimony,
through historical accounts, or family stories, but rather,
in the very fabric of our being, the grim nausea that seizes
us. We are simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the horrific
visions of Nine-Eleven. We might not have any deeper cognitive
knowledge of the historical moments these works address,
but, perhaps, we have a better comprehension of the catastrophic
experience they catalog.
Originally it was the discontinuity
of time and space that held this group together, because
there had been some anxiety surrounding the millennial threshold,
but now everything has changed, it is the catastrophic
experience that captivates our attention. Passing through
the threshold of a new millennium no longer induces anxiety.
These anxieties have waned in the wake of recent events;
in fact, they might even seem trivial. Until very recently,
the millennial division was felt most profoundly when we
encounter the sites of 20th century violence: Hiroshima, the
concentration camps, London besieged by V2 missiles. London and
Hiroshima have been rebuilt, concentration camps are over
grown with weeds, the traces of our century are slipping
away, as are our memories; but some of this has changed.
The discontinuity of time and space, which poses a serious
challenge to cultural memory, still weaves its way through
the works of Sally Clark, Binh Danh, Ian Everard, James Fee,
Katsushige Nakahashi, Aaron Kerner, Elyse Koren-Camarra,
Rebecca Ramos, Robynn Smith and Kenji Yanobe. This discontinuity,
however, has a renewed urgency, because we recognize that many of
the same concerns arise, or will arise, when facing "Ground