National Veterans Art Museum

I visited the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago’s South Loop last week on a Groupon – $5 admission! I ride my bike past it often and always tell myself I should stop in and check it out. Well, I finally did, and I’m glad I did it.

The Museum is on the 3rd floor and had three exhibitions up at the time. The one that most interested me was Intrusive Thoughts: An exhibition of work by veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror curated by Aaron Hughes. Its statement starts with a general definition of intrusion:

Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas that are upsetting or distressing and can be difficult to manage or eliminate.

One of my colleagues at SAIC, Liz Medoff, who also keeps a blog “Traumablog,” wrote a paper that I read last year on trauma that focused on this concept of intrusion. In the paper, she discussed psychologist Judith Herman’s work on trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and intrusion. Herman wrote a book called Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror and I found a psychology class posted online that discusses the book and the concept of intrusion. In this class site, intrusion is described as

Long after the danger is past, traumatized people relive the event as though it were continually recurring in the present. The trauma interrupts daily life.

Traumatic memories lack verbal narrative and context; rather they are encoded in the form of vivid sensations and images. They resemble the memories of young children.

Traumatized people find themselves reenacting some aspect of the trauma scene in disguised form without realizing what they’re doing.

Seen as a possible attempt at integration–to relive and master the overwhelming feelings of the traumatic moment(s).

Attempts to avoid reliving the trauma too often result in a narrowing of consciousness or withdrawal from engagement with others and an impoverished life. (all from http://www.uic.edu/classes/psych/psych270/PTSD.htm)

From this discussion, it seems like trauma is something that is experienced personally, privately, and is something that the person is supposed to eventually “get over.” However, the show Intrusive Thoughts at the National Veterans Art Museum aims to open up these experiences of trauma and its following intrusion to the public:

Although they are commonly unseen, there are silent signs of our current occupations in our local communities, households, and memories. This show features work by veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror that brings these signs from the shadows to the forefront and gives these traumas a voice in the political and cultural discussions of today.

One project at the Museum that I particularly responded to was the Warrior Writers Project. From the exhibition take-away: “The Warrior Writers Project brings together recent veterans and current service members to be in [a] creative community and utilize art-making processes to express themselves. There is a deep necessity for veterans to create when so much has been shattered and stolen.”

The project took up an entire wall with writing in charcoal right on the wall. Different stories by different authors intermingled and smeared together. I sat in the gallery and read these stories. Some were more easily distinguishable from others, but some overflowed their spatial boundaries and intruded upon other stories. Sometimes the jumble of letters was too hard to discern and I had to move on; an experience that reflects the confusion of time and memory that is part of the condition of intrusion. The writing bears witness to experiences that will never be forgotten. Some of the writers unveil things that were done in the name of war. Some talk about their sickness now with the traumas – sleeplessness, emptiness. Most, if not all, admit to their feelings of regret.

I am intrigued by the blank space left on the wall. How does this void speak to these traumas? What does it have to say? The blackness of the charcoal and its heaviness of words uncomfortably sinks below the lofty empty space. What is that space supposed to be filled with? More trauma? Or some hope?

A list of the Warrior Writers and titles of individual pieces:

Chantelle Bateman, The Woman I Used to Be; Maurice DeCaul, Shush and Cries; Kelly Dougherty, Women Wailing; Vince Emanuele, Deadly Days; Jen Hogg, The Sexual Politics of War; Jeff Key, Passion’s Hearts; Maggie Martin, Paradelle of the Haunted; Robynn Murray, A Picturesque Moment; Jennifer Pacanowski, The Sickness; Garett Reppenhagen, Duffel Bags; Cloy Richards, Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Leonard Shelton, Combat: What I Lost; Jon Turner, Lift Away Your Pain and April 2.

betterArts residency!

Today I leave for a week-long residency at betterArts in Redwood, NY! betterArts is the arts organization that hosts the artist residency program at BetterFarm:

Better Farm is a sustainability education center and artists’ retreat founded on the principles of the Better Theory—a belief that every experience brings with it an opportunity for exponential personal growth. Through educational workshops, artist residencies, internships, and an ongoing commitment to sustainable living and community outreach, we strive to apply the Better Theory to all our endeavors while offering the curious an opportunity to expand, grow, and flourish.

My Amtrak leaves tonight at 9:30! I’ll be posting throughout the week with updates of what I’m working on. Also, I’ll be having an exhibition at the end of the residency and hosting a public outreach program, so I’ll be sure to share that too!

To check out BetterFarm, click here. And, to check out betterArts, click here.

Images from Symptoms Variable!

Here are a few images from the exhibition!

My piece one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one make a hundred affections (afflictions), 2011

Here’s the video:

LoVid at the Graham Foundation

I went to artist duo LoVid’s performance as part of Lampo’s, Chicago non-profit that promotes experimental music and intermedia projects, performance series at the Graham Foundation last week.

LoVid, Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus, were presenting two new pieces using their Sync Armonica, a handmade A/V synthesizer they made during a residency at EYE BEAM in 2005.  They use the Sync Armonica to control wave frequencies and transfer them into sound and video outputs.  The second piece I saw, used two performers’ bodies’ electrical outputs to create the sound a video.

The performers hold a wire sort of contraption and press down on a button with their hands to send their electrical waves through to the Sync Armonica.  These waves then get transferred in different parts of the synthesizer into either sound waves or video information.  The performance was long, 40 minutes, and an extremely intense viewing/listening experience.  The beginning of the performance started off slowly – the screen projected red and the sound was a rhythmic low bass tone.  As the performance went on, the sound became louder and more textured, and the video more varied in color and movement.  During the talk back, the artists explained that the performers’ bodies were contributing to the changes in sound and image – their electrical outputs were different inputs to the synthesizer.  Not only was the Sync Armonica an instrument, but the performers bodies’ were as well – their own electricity became a source for sound and images.

Bodies as instruments, or bodies as information, was the most interesting aspect of this performance to me.  What kind of information do our bodies hold?  What can they say or emit?

To check out LoVid and their other projects, click here.

To check out Lampo and their events scheduled, click here.

And, for the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, click here.

Touched By Fire

I had a piece, Grating Carrots,  in the Touched By Fire show put together by the Touched By Fire Organization at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto last week.  The piece highlights a seemingly mundane moment, but attempts to bring out its underlying neuroses.

To check out more about Touched By Fire – a program to stimulate and celebrate the work created by artists with mood disorders, click here.

And here is documentation of the installation!  I have the text in the “Writing Projects” section of my site as well.