"on the subject of WAR"

Nina Berman Cpl. Tyson Johnson III, 22, a mechanic with Military Intelligence

The caption next to the photograph of Corporal Tyson reads:

Cpl. Tyson Johnson

22 years old, 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, was
wounded September 20, 2003 in a mortar attack on
Abu Graib Prison. He suffered masssive internal
injuries and is 100 percent disabled.

Photographed May 6, 2004 at his home in Pritchard, Alabama.

"Most of my friends they were losing it out there.
They would do anything to get out of there, do anything.
I had one of my guys, he used to tell me, 'My wife just
had my son. I can't wait to get home and see him." And
you know, he died out there. He sure did, and I have to
think about that everyday.

"I got a bonus in the National Guards for joining the
Army. Now I've got to pay the bonus back and its
$2999. The Guard wants it back. It's on my credit
that I owe them that. I'm burning on the inside.
I'm burning."

We went to the opening last night mostly because a friend was part of Smack Mellon's latest group show (the site's not updated as I'm writing this, so check ArtCal for details), so it was supposed to be largely a social thing. Sure we knew the title of the show, "on the subject of WAR," ahead of time, but I can speak for both of us when I say that we were still caught a bit off guard by the power of the imagery. We didn't leave with any springs in our steps.

Susan Sontag, in whose memory the show is dedicated, would have been pretty pleased: The curator, Smack Mellon-ite and visual artist Kathleen Gilrain, wants to show how other artists continue to deal with the dilemma of representing in images the atrocities and absurdities of war.

Eve Sussman Solace 2001 video still

Twelve of the horrible, and infuriating, photographs and texts from Nina Berman's project, Purple Hearts, Back from Iraq, shared a room with Eve Sussman's very beautiful and melancholy video, Solace, from which the strains of Purcell's "Music for a While" were heard repeated over and over again, threatening to destroy any composure remaining to the viewer. The video is worked from homey Brooklyn footage assembled by Sussman on September 11 and the days following.

Mike Asente Aerial and Ground Explosions 2004-2005 mechanical embroidery, dimensions variable (detail of installation which included five pieces)

Mike Asente's delicate white needlepoint "canvases" explode near the entrance of the huge DUMBO space, which itself looks much like a survivor of urban war.

Barry and I have two of Asente's pieces, and we like them both a lot. One is a large soft sculpture, Baby Disney Asshole, and the other is a tiny framed embroidery suggesting a distant galaxy, which somehow, and quite oddly, links the earlier asshole with the current work with explosions.

There's much, much more in the exhibiton on Water Street, including a room of early 40's photographs from the "good" war by anonymous photographers (from the collection of Edward C. Graves), but crowds and the lateness of the hour made it difficult for us to see all of the work properly last night.

The other participating artists are Bobby Neel Adams, Barnstormers, Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, Ron Haviv, Susan Meiselas, Patricia Thornley, Sarah Trigg. While photography and video dominate, a number of other media are represented in this powerful show.

We should really go back ourselves, but it won't be easy. No one walks out whistling.

[image at the very top from Purple Hearts; Sussman video still from artnet]

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Published on February 13, 2005 9:02 PM.

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