Lament for the World

Writer  Nora Gallagher shares a poem she wrote while in residency at Blue Mountain Center during September 11th, 2001. 

This poem was written at the Blue Mountain Center in Adirondack State Park, a writers and artists colony on a small private lake. We had no television. The morning of September 11, someone called us, and then someone else turned on a radio in the main lodge kitchen. Andrew Ginzel, one of the artists, was not with us. He had returned to New York over the weekend to teach a class. His studio is on Bleecker Street. Andrew heard the first plane come over Manhattan as he was sipping tea at his desk. Then he heard the explosion. He got on his bike and rode down to Battery Park to find out what was going on. There he witnessed much more than anyone should ever have to see. He returned to us that night, late, driving out of Manhattan, watching the convoys of military vehicles, police, and ambulances driving in. In the morning, he told us his story. Having not seen any of the TV images, Andrew’s account was the first I had heard in any detail. That was the first day I cried. Later, Andrew counted out five thousand grains of rice (I later changed the number in the poem) and placed them in a basket on our dining table. They stayed there for the rest of the session.

Lament for the World

Andrew has made you into grains of rice
all three thousand
and placed you in a basket as if to shield you from the flames

He asks at breakfast how something so large as those towers
could stop existing, holding his coffee cup, turning it, around
and around as if half expecting it to implode in his palm

A dead fish rises from the lake this morning, gills spread,
white skin, it floats in the dark water,
the slow kill of acid rain

Everywhere we are ruined, our towers fall
into a dust of memos, plaintive notes
all life suspended falling

How could something so intricate, so cleverly built,
so beloved as a body, as a fish
cease to be

– Nora Gallagher

Used by Permission. From American Writers Respond,  edited by William Heyen, published by Etruscan Press, 2001.

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Towards Peace

Beverly Braxton, a New York educator, writes about the Circle of Peace memorial she created with her students after 9/11 here.

Braxton writes, “The Circle of Peace memorial is our tribute to all those whose lives ended on that tragic September morning, and our symbol of hope and remembrance for all of us who share in contemplating it, now and in the future.”

"The form of the wall is inspired by a symbol created by peacemaker Nichols Roerich in New York in 1929. Essentially, his symbol represents past, present and future enclosed in the circle of eternity, or science, art and religion held together in the ring of culture."

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September 11, 2011, Blue Mountain Center

Ten years ago today at Blue Mountain Center, the 15 residents in session from late August to late September 2001, already a close community, grew closer still thanks to BMC executive director Harriet Barlow’s extraordinarily guidance through an unnavigable event. Those residents received a version of the following via email from her today. One of them has asked her to share it with 10YAC.
It is that kind of a day: blindingly blue sky, crisp, clean air, sparkling lake. The terrors echo up, a failure of repression. One is still destabilized by awful uncertainties that multiplied for hours upon hours, even weeks beyond.  Estimates of the dead rose and fell as the missing reappeared, or did not.
Here then: 15 artists on an Adirondack porch, begging warmth from the baking stones beneath and the sun above. Andrew Ginzel guides us as we count out grains of rice, one for each reported casualty.  The mound in the bowl in the center of our dining room table accompanies us through the month. Could we have even imagined the myriad costs that followed?  Can we mortals hold that many forms of disappointment and loss in our still-reptilian brains?
And yet, the solace of place—nature raw and groomed, capacious and immediate; and the steadying company—an instant and permanent community of compassion, holding us, granting the hope of sanity beyond. 
Work for peace.


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Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War: An Interview with Michael Sheridan

Minneapolis curator and arts writer Tricia Khutoretsky interviewed Michael Sheridan, Filmmaker and Director of Community Supported Film,  for 10 Years + Counting:

I know more about Afghanistan from talking to Michael Sheridan than I’ve known in the 10 years since we have been at war. That’s pretty disappointing, on my part. On the other hand, it is a testament to the wealth of knowledge that Michael has about the country within which he began work on a documentary, Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War. The need for insiders on this project led to his film training program culminating in the making of 10 films by Afghani storytellers, a collection titled “The Fruit of our Labor.” Michael’s intent was to provide a worthwhile and sustainable aid program, while also sharing with an American audience an understanding of Afghanistan beyond the battlefront.  As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, this certainly is something we can reflect on, how far we have come without knowing much about the country we contain in a state of war. In simply asking Michael how and why, a flow of lucid insight into an entangled place unraveled. The potential for the films can only be great, though the challenges are complex. We take for granted that our knowledge comes with ease, despite our frustrations with channels of biased media and reality television. In Afghanistan, the difficult place for real life to be is on a screen.

Community Supported Film training.

How did you begin outreach for the film training participants in Afghanistan? How many people applied?

I have a partner co-producing Afghan organization, one of the best community media organizations in Afghanistan, The Killid Group. They do mostly print and radio, with community radio stations across the country. Through them and my own research and networking, we did outreach as much as we could across the country. We had 70 applicants and we interviewed 35 of them, we selected 10 participants from 3 different ethnic groups and included 4 women.

How difficult was process of reaching across the different ethnic groups? 

The ethnic division is another extremely challenging and complex issue. As much as I know and understand about ethnic conflict and the ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan, it is still amazing to be in a room and have one ethnic minority, the Hazaras, laughing and carrying on as they do generally loud and gregarious, when a group of Pashtuns walk in and the room goes dead. Literally everything just stops. During the training one of the most remarkable responses on the evaluations was what an amazing multicultural experience this was for them (the trainees). It made me realize that for the most part, people don’t have any experience crossing ethnic lines.  For this program, they had to be in a place where they would be accepting of ethnic issues and gender issues. 

What else was used as criteria for selecting the participants?

We also had to ask about whether or not it was okay that some of the sample films might have people who weren’t fully clothed, in terms of their legs and arms. Afghanistan is one of the most conservative places on the planet, and that conservatism plays out in ways that, for outsiders can be really hard not only to imagine, but to conceive that people carry on with such constraints. The criteria was also such that people didn’t need experience in actual filmmaking, but needed a background in some form of storytelling. One of the focuses of Community Supported Film is also to educate the storytellers about getting people to concentrate on issues of social and economic development.

Community Supported Film training.

How intimately or connected did you expect participants to be with these social/economic issues? What comfort level did they need with the subject matter?

The training really came out of my experience trying to make a film in Afghanistan in 2009, so originally the training was about assembling a team of Afghans who had an intimacy with rural Afghanistan. It was preferred that we found people who had families or access themselves to village life and who felt comfortable in that environment. With the turmoil in Afghanistan, there is a lot of dislocation but people in Kabul still have family or roots in the villages, and we were looking for people who could get access very quickly. Really being able to film is about having close family or tribal relations, its almost impossible without that kind of intimacy, to get the trust and the security that you need.

With so many intricate elements to consider from ethnic divides to gender issues… given these complexities, how did you finally select 10 candidates?

Mostly, I wanted them to be able to use what they were learning in their own work, so they needed on a practical level, to be able to talk about how they imagined using what they learned in the future. But it was extremely difficult to judge all the criteria within a culture that isn’t yours, in terms of really honest interest. This isn’t a kettle of roses here, you are dealing with people who are psychologically, economically, socially shattered and you can’t idealize it. There are a lot of trainings going on in Afghanistan and a ridiculous number of “opportunities” that don’t go anywhere. Afghanis are used to the run around and seeing what they can get real fast. You really have to dig down to find the people who have the best intentions and are headed in the direction you want to partner with.

"L is for Light D is for Darkness" film still.

How does word get around… how is information is shared in Afghanistan?

One of the reasons I’m interested in having CSF develop in places like Afghanistan, is that information moves through misinformation. You wouldn’t believe what people tell each other. People who I respect and trust immensely would tell me the craziest things. The distrust and way in which information is misused is remarkable. It’s true on all sides from the government and the insurgents to the extremist– they all play with information. In a place with as much illiteracy as Afghanistan, it is fairly easy to misinform people quickly, spreading rumors and conspiracies. It is not a place where intelligent choices are made based on good information.

So how does documentary film play role in this culture?

In the last 8-10 years they’ve gone from 0 television stations to anywhere from 35-40 stations. They sprout up and disappear quite rapidly, but there’s a lot of television and most of it unfortunately is soap operas. In a place as traumatized as Afghanistan it will take many years before the public wants anything besides entertainment. Cultural organizations try to do weekly screenings of important films on Friday, prayer day. But there isn’t a cinema in Kabul, a place to just hang out and watch films, Kabul shuts down at night and people go home. This is true for all of the cities and outside of that you get into environments that don’t have electricity. But there is a strong committed Afghan community working towards growing an environment for excellent news coverage, documentary storytelling and slowly for cinema and film. It will be a long 20 to 30 year process of slowly developing an appreciation and understanding of the value that video journalism and documentary play in the important process of informing yourself.

Despite the challenges of sharing the films in Afghanistan, are the films intended for an Afghani audience or American audience? Do the films resonate with the two cultures equally?

There’s never a perfect balance in terms of the ability of film to speak to two different cultures and places. Some of the films will be more successful in different environments. The intent is to try and make a collection of films that can raise awareness, open eyes and start good conversations in both places. The first problem in Afghanistan is that there isn’t a film tradition so the conversation at first is about the actors and actresses. They ask: ‘how did you get them to do that and say that?’.  Typically the term “director” is assumed to be a controller and the term “character” is assumed to be an actor or actress. The filming of reality is received with: ‘Why would you bother? What’s the use of that? We know reality.’ This would also be assumed culturally, to be a problem. Why would the people in the film have allowed you to film their own lives? And certainly the women should not have been filmed.

"Water Ways" film still.

So how do you address cultural differences regarding the acceptance and understanding of lived reality film?

As part of the process, we had the filmmakers themselves to go out and show their films, talk about them and defend them in a positive way.  This was challenging because particularly the men in the audience, would be quite aggressive or the audience would question the honesty in the films. If the film at all appeared to be critical– one film deals with a woman who works as a construction worker on the streets while looking for her husband who is a drug addict– the classic response was: ‘why would you ever select a negative story like that? You must have created that story. I’ve never seen a woman working construction and then even if it is true, why wouldn’t you make a story that is positive about Afghan culture?’ But in some ways this is what makes it all the more exciting, because you truly see a process of revelation about the power and potential of this kind of filmmaking.

Afghanistan and Iraq both obviously feel misunderstood and misrepresented and there are various reasons for this. But I feel that Afghanistan seems even more distant and less discussed than Iraq. From your perspective, why is this?

Geopolitically, I think that Afghanistan is just much further out of the picture. There wasn’t much to talk about in relation to American daily life previous to 9/11. Iraq effectively has been under a dictator, but it is a country with infrastructure and institutions, major business, a middle class, culture and all the things that one could relate to if one tried. Whereas Afghanistan for 30 years, at least from an outsider perspective, has been nothing but a war zone and place of civil war and in-fighting. Beyond that, it hasn’t had the stability to have interaction with an international community. It is the second poorest country in the world, eighty percent is agrarian and it is a futile society. Relating to that for a modern society, except on very quaint terms, can be almost impossible.  The social, economic and cultural codes are really untranslatable for many people.

Having awareness of these problems from years of research, you’ve said that your goal was that the CSF training program would provide an important kind of “effective aid.”  Did the training program provide the aid that you had hoped to offer?

I wanted Community Supported Film, the training and filmmaking process to live up to the very best principles of local participatory development, in which local people own the process.  I hoped to try and derive what someone like myself, an outsider, could provide. This has been more difficult to implement than I imagined, despite having made a lot of films on this exact challenge. The training was successful in the intent to not be based on a single project but on an engagement process. Hopefully we will develop the capacity, infrastructure and funding to do this in other places like Haiti and Southern Sudan. But it has not been easy, there have been a lot of challenges trying to do something like this in a place this difficult to understand. But we are very happily licking our wounds, understanding, learning and moving ahead.

Through October 7th, a full version of each of the 10 films will be available to view through, in reflection of the last 10 years at war, 9/11 and the invasion anniversary on October 7th. The hope is that the films will raise awareness to the Afghan perspective and bring Afghan voices into the discussion. Michael Sheridan and CSFilm encourage the use of the films (all or some) to bring these issues into your discussions and events.

Future events, screenings and panels are in the works, to stay posted: Community Supported Film on Facebook.

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Terry Gross on “Top Secret America”

In her current series exploring the aftermath of September 11, 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, public radio’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross interviews one of the authors of Top Secret America: The Rise of the American Security State.

Listen to Gross interview Dana Priest (co-author with William Arkin) to learn how this book starkly underlines the massive real-dollar costs of the “terrorism industrial complex,” and the attendant waste, unmanageability, and, most important, unaccountability that are ominous byproducts. Listen here.

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New Narratives of the Costs of War

Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice (Voices of Witness) is a collection of oral histories edited by Alia Malek, author and former Department of Justice attorney. In the book, a compelling collection of eighteen oral histories of men and women  swept up in the War on Terror are compiled as narrators recount personal experiences of the post-9/11 backlash that has altered their lives and communities.

Included in this collection is the story of Adama, a sixteen-year-old Muslim American who was abruptly seized from her home by the FBI on suspicion of being a suicide bomber. Even after her release from detention, she was forced to wear a tracking bracelet for the next three years.

Read an excerpt of Adama’s story here, and stay tuned for the pending PBS documentary Adama about her and her family,  directed by David Felix Sutcliffe and produced by Su Kim.

David Sutcliffe films Adama and family.

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Bringing Our War Money Home through Art: An Interview with Natasha Mayers

Maine based artist-activist Natasha Mayers talks with 10 Years + Counting about  community based Draw-a-thons.

Please describe your project. What inspired you to tackle this issue?

Our project was inspired by misplaced priorities resulting in the things that creative people love being strangled by the recession –parks, libraries, schools, concerts, field trips, vegetable gardens, etc. while the money to fund all these wonderful needs was right at hand, in the military budget. We thought an outpouring of creative envisioning would help people see beyond the darkness of confused priorities, and maybe step back toward a humane and sustainable way of life on the planet. A series of Draw-a-thons and Draw-ins to Bring Our War $$ Home, as well as display and distribution of some of the images, is an ongoing project between the BOW$H campaign, the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and CODEPINK Maine. Artists, poets, musicians, students and community members came together to create and share creations.
At the first Draw-a-thon, we produced over 75 images of better ways of  using of our tax dollars at the first Draw-a-thon and created 4 different zines (with 19 images each) to hand over to our legislators.

"Paintbrush Missile Launcher Truck" by Brian Reeves.

What have you learned from this project? Were there any surprising outcomes?

One surprising outcome was how different the events turned out to be — they took place in a large church hall; the Space Gallery in Portland; the rotunda Hall of Flags at the Statehouse in Augusta, and other varied venues. Soon we will do a silkscreening workshop at a grassroots media conference. The collaborations between artists to create the images has been a gift to all of us. The incredible range of how people who’ve devoted their life’s work to art will conceive of a the message “Bring Our War $$ Home” is delightful. We found in our Draw-Ins that people are truly dis-armed when it comes to working with artists! They get very excited to see their ideas brought to life by the participating artists, and to be able to take the drawing away with them.

What Is For Dinner, silkscreen by Robert Shetterly and Natasha Mayers

How do you wage peace each day? Any pointers for the rest of us?

We wage peace every day by believing in the possibility of it, and by putting out images and messages that help others believe. Our silk screens are being purchased by activists and used in demonstrations covered by the news around the world. Our art is getting seen!

"Bring Our War Dollars Home" by Kenny Cole, William Hessian, and Laurie.

If applicable, how can people get involved in your project?

People can get involved by visiting our website to see what we are up to, and sending us an email or calling to get news about how to join in. Besides artists and other creative types, we always need supporters to help with supplies, meals, or disseminating images. If you agree to publicly display our silkscreened posters you can order various designs for a nominal fee.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

For additional information, links and to see posted images, go to:

One of Maine’s most committed activist-artists, Mayers’ ‘World Mind Missiles’ is but one of many personal and public creative actions advocating for peace and social justice.  She has organized draw-a-thons, helped 4th and 5th graders paint their town history on utility poles and supervised painting of over 500 murals.  Her ‘State of War’ series places war in Maine landscapes, asking ‘How would we feel if it happened here?’

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War Redacted: In Conversation with Camille Gage

10YAC project coordinator Camille Gage is a Minneapolis-based artist. She was recently a featured artist in the art e-zine, access+ENGAGE. Read more about her series titled, War, Redacted, and the exhibition she has co-curated with 10YAC Galleries curator, Susanne Slavick.

About her recent work, specifically the War, Redacted series: “I began working on the War, Redacted series after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The work was intended to provoke dialogue and investigation into a conflict that the U.S. Central Command labeled “The Long War” and often refers to as a multi-generational conflict. What does this mean for individual soldiers, their families, and their communities? What does this mean for U.S. citizens, on whose behalf this war is being waged?

Cropped and reproduced in access+ENGAGE with permission of the artist.

Each piece in the War, Redacted series began with a photographic image of U.S. military casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan arriving at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. The original images were taken by military photographers. Most of the photographs were taken inside transport planes or on the tarmac at Dover.  These images were then painted, or ‘redacted’, with black paint. At the time of the creation of this body of work, all photographs of Iraq and Afghanistan war casualties arriving at Dover AFB were suppressed by the Pentagon.

Cropped and reproduced in access+ENGAGE with permission of the artist.

The original images were made available through two unrelated Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) requests: one by Mr. Russ Kick of Arizona; the other by Professor Ralph Begleiter of the University of Delaware. President Barack Obama has since lifted the ban, and allows the families of the fallen to decide whether to invite the media to record the ceremonies at Dover AFB. More generally, my work explores the duality and temporal nature of life and contemporary social issues. As an artist and engaged citizen, I continue to be inspired by the intersection of art and political expression and believe that artists who choose this path have a role to play in shaping the public consciousness.

More information about the exhibit: No Glory10 Years and Counting group exhibition at Form + Content Gallery in Minneapolis, curated by Camille Gage and Susanne Slavick, opens with a reception on September 10 (7 – 9 pm), and will be on view from September 8 – October 1. There is a gallery talk about the show scheduled for September 18 (3 – 5 pm), featuring Veterans’ Book Project participants Luke Leonard and Riley Sharbanno in a discussion moderated by Camille Gage.  

About the artist: Camille J. Gage began her  creative journey in her teens, writing music and touring with a variety of bands including the critically lauded, all-female alt-rock band Tetes Noires. She later segued into public art and mixed-media performance, often with a topical edge, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Gage’s work has been shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), the Weisman Museum, and the Katherine Nash Gallery, among others. She has performed at the Walker Art Center, the MIA, and First Avenue in Minneapolis, and many venues in New York City including The Bottom Line, The Knitting Factory, and Folk City.

Gage has received grants from FORECAST Public Artworks, Intermedia Arts, and was a recipient of a Southern Theater Overtones Commission. Her work is in numerous individual and institutional collections, including the Weisman Art Museum, the MIA, Walker Art Center, the Family Housing Fund, the Minnesota Historical Society and Carleton College. Gage is also one of the founding members of Form + Content Gallery, an artist’s cooperative in Minneapolis. Gage and the community of artists and activists who created 10YAC believe that creative energy can be a powerful force for change: “We hope to turn this anniversary of devastation into an unstoppable, irrepressible explosion of imagining the possible, a new beginning.”

Look for a personal essay by Camille Gage, about the intersections between her artwork, political and personal lives, and her vision for the artist’s role in bearing witness to the toll of a decade at war on next week.

Credits: All images courtesy of the artist. Middle right and bottom right, both untitled altered photographs from the War, Redacted series by Camille Gage.

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Traversing Boundaries: An Interview with Joe Bigley

Artist Joe Bigley talks with 10 Years + Counting about his travelling performance piece, Traversing a Foreign Border Domestically

1. Please describe your project. What inspired you to tackle this issue?

On May 12, 2011 Traversing a Foreign Border Domestically (TFBD)began by bicycling the length and shape of the border of Afghanistan within the United States. Beginning and ending at Ground Zero in NYC, the route extended further west of Indianapolis and further south of Atlanta. Taking 69 days to complete, TFBD totaled 3,730 milesl, exceeding the actual length of the Afghani border. This long term public performance project was intended to set up chance interactions to engage in a dialogue with a wider public to archive a slice of public perception regarding the war in Afghanistan.

The arbitrary nature of political boundaries and specifically the border of Afghanistan seemed to be a potent topic to explore. By superimposing the Afghani border onto the US road system and travelling its length and shape garnered voluntary sacrifice by a civilian during a time of war. Sacrifice which the wider media does not emphasize as it promotes going on with business as usual. The timing of the project is to reference the 10th anniversary of both 9/11 and the subsequent war while ending up back at Ground Zero in July was to mark the proposed scale down date of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.

Domestically (TFBD)began by bicycling the length and shape of the border of Afghanistan within the United States. Beginning and ending at Ground Zero in NYC, the route extended further west of Indianapolis and further south of Atlanta. Taking 69 days to complete, TFBD totaled 3,730 milesl, exceeding the actual length of the Afghani border. This long term public performance project was intended to set up chance interactions to engage in a dialogue with a wider public to archive a slice of public perception regarding the war in Afghanistan.

The arbitrary nature of political boundaries and specifically the border of Afghanistan seemed to be a potent topic to explore. By superimposing the Afghani border onto the US road system and travelling its length and shape garnered voluntary sacrifice by a civilian during a time of war. Sacrifice which the wider media does not emphasize as it promotes going on with business as usual. The timing of the project is to reference the 10th anniversary of both 9/11 and the subsequent war while ending up back at Ground Zero in July was to mark the proposed scale down date of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.

2.What have you learned from this project? Were there any surprising outcomes?

TFBD offered a wealth of insight to how the wider public views the war in Afghanistan as well as the idea of war in general and its effects on domestic issues. In general the individuals who I had the good fortune to speak with were skeptical of the war at best. The length of the conflict was taking a visible toll on people as their patience is running thin. A common viewpoint was the concern over no clear finish line; when do we know when it is over? When will be be able to say that the job is done? What is the job in the first place? Many people were skeptical about the support of Karzi and where all of the lost funds that go towards Afghanistan are now and what they are being used for. There was a consensus that it may be more effective to stop the war, not necessarily because of the conflict itself but because there are so many problems within the U.S. border that people view as more pressing to their daily lives. One thing that was easy to notice early on in the project was how easy it is to find people in smaller communities who are directly effected by the war. By having served personally or by having a loved one who served, is serving or has been killed in conflict, the smaller communities in the U.S. are exponentially harder hit by the costs of war from my findings.
Other than the inevitable surprising issues that arise on a bicycle trek of this length, it was always surprising to hear the very uncommon sentiment that we should have hit the region harder so that we could have withdrawn our troops from the ground over there sooner. It was also surprising to meet young men and women who were still considering to join the military. As one young man stated, he wanted to be “the guy to kick the doors in over there”. Being committed to maintaining neutrality within the context of this project, hearing statements such as this made the maintenance more challenging.

3. How do you wage peace each day? Any pointers for the rest of us?

I am a firm believer in voting with the dollar. By making a sustained effort to be informed on which corporations are benefiting, supporting or funding the war effort I avoid buying the projects that they produce whenever possible. In addition I try to treat others with the dignity and respect that everyone is entitled to.

4. If applicable, how can people get involved in your project?

By visiting people are invited to comment on the Discussion forum to add to the bank of opinions regarding the war in Afghanistan.

5. Anything else you’d like to share with us?

“Democracy does not work unless you participate.”
-Frank Zappa

Joe Bigley

North Carolina based artist Joe Bigley received a MFA degree from Alfred University in 2008. His work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally including  China, Norway and Spain. Currently he is working on several bodies of work and is adjunct faculty at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

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Beauty as Action: An Interview with Nancy Willis

Artist Nancy Willis lives and works in the Napa Valley. Willis works with themes of intimacy and connection across paint, printmaking, and video mediums. Here she discusses her latest project with 10 Years + Counting.

Please describe your project.

The project is an exhibition called Discrepancy/Living Between War and Peace. It looks at the impact on daily life from three events: the World Trade Center bombings and the two wars. Twenty-three artists, three writers and veterans from Pathway Home, a residential recovery program for vets with PSTD are participating.

What inspired you to tackle this issue?

I began to question the beauty of where I live (Napa Valley), and also the nature of beauty in my work in relation to the images of conflict and trauma that I would see on the news.  I was looking to reconcile the discrepancy between the two. I could recognize that geographical distance was part of my feeling of disconnection, but I also felt that no matter how much I read or saw, I didn’t really know what was going on. I do not know anyone in the military. Any information I received was mitigated through another source.

I felt that in creating beauty I was taking a counter action to assuage suffering, but over time, I had feelings of discontent that it wasn’t enough.

"Smolder/Vermillion & Dust" Monotype by Nancy Willis

In 2008, I began collecting images of suicide bombings, the two wars, and the collapse of the World Trade Center. In both printmaking and painting, I began to lay images of chandeliers on top of the images I had collected as a way of talking about filters, that there is always more going on below the surface of what we see.  When I found what I was looking for in my own work, I knew I wanted to curate a show. I specifically reached out to artists who had an inherent sense of beauty in their work and did not typically deal with overtly political or conflictual themes.

I had heard about the remarkable success of a small program, Pathway Home; a residential recovery program for veterans with PTSD, specific to Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of their arts therapy, they are asked to illustrate a plaster mask, showing on the outside how they are perceived by others and on the inside, how they perceived themselves.  I sat in with one of the therapists and a group and witnessed the open expression of their feelings through the creative arts. I knew that people want to know how they feel.

 What have you learned from this project?

That one small pull in a new direction of an artist’s exploration can lead to collective action. A project like this is an organic experience. You must be able to learn what to hold on to and what to let go of along the way. I also believed that if you put your faith in the artists, they will come through in a big way and that was confirmed.

Were there any surprising outcomes?

Yes. I knew the masks made by the vets from Pathway Home would touch people, but what I didn’t think about was how the artists’ work would have such a powerful effect on the veterans. One of the vets said, “When I read the artists’ statements with the work, I realized we are not so far away from one another. We feel the same way.” To see that as artists, our work can have some positive effect on their healing was a nirvana moment for me personally.

How do you wage peace each day? 

I try and sit in wonder with opposition. There are always at least two sides to every story. I try and see the other perspectives.  I advocate that art can make a difference.  Any pointers for the rest of us? Don’t make assumptions about what you think you know. People, mechanisms and institutions are complicated but not impossible. Turn judgment to open-mindedness.

If applicable, how can people get involved in your project?

We are having a community art memorial hands-on project on September 11th and other panel and lecture discussions. They can also tell people about Pathway Home. This is not a government-sponsored program. It is funded through private donations and the need is great.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Trust your instincts. If you believe in your idea, it can be done. Don’t ever give up.

Tanya Boggs Photography

Nancy Willis’s work is currently on view in a world printmaking exhibit in Sofia, Bulgaria as well as in DISCREPANCY/LIVING BETWEEN WAR AND PEACE at the Napa Valley Museum where she is also the exhibition curator.

Willis teaches painting and printmaking at the Napa Valley College and Nimbus Arts and the Principals of Design at the Culinary Institute of America. In 2007, Willis successfully launched annual Path of the Artist painting tours to France leading artists through an intimate view of Paris, Bordeaux and Bergerac. Willis advocates good wine and long dinners for all artists and can be found looking to stir things up in and out of her studio in St. Helena.

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