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Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe
 
Aaron Kerner, Curator

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 forget.

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 Zero."

 
 
 

Aaron Kerner is an Assistant Professor in the Cinema Department of San Francisco State University. He has a background in Art History and  formerly was a lecturer at the University of California Santa Cruz, History of Art and Visual Culture Department.

He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. His dissertation title is, "Representing Abjection in the Catastrophic Experience."