The media has been slowly ramping up the 9/11 remembrances for weeks, but the Triangle has been meditating upon the event since at least March, when composer Steve Reich world-premiered his string quartet "WTC 9/11" in the Duke Performances season. Many art exhibitions and events around the Triangle aspire to a deeper reflection or analysis than the melodramatic cable channel recaps and head-shaking pundits will offer. Ranging from photography and film to music, literature and even architecture, sincere and thoughtful meditation upon this international tragedy—and its continuing aftermath—can be found in the arts this week.
Compulsive expressions of memory are thoroughly explored in "Flesh and Metal, Bodies and Buildings: Works from Jonathan Hyman's Archive of 9/11 Vernacular Memorials" in Duke University's Special Collections Gallery in Perkins Library through Oct. 16. Pedro Lasch, of the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, chose around 40 photographs from more than a thousand that Hyman has taken of street murals, tattoos, signs, headstones and other memorials over the last decade.
Some of the memorials that Hyman records might be described as spontaneous, such as the "7th Ave. Sheetrock Memorial," which shows a sheet of drywall propped up on a Manhattan sidewalk, covered with peeling newsprint pages of faces of the dead held on with painter's tape. Others, if not official, are more intentional: In the "Ground Zero Memorial Bus," columns of victims' names take the place of windows, and the ceiling is covered with headshots of the dead.
"One of the most difficult aspects of this discourse of terrorism is that it assumes that there is no reason behind it, that there's no way of understanding [terrorism]," Lasch says.
"[This work] is not about shocking anyone. What happened in Iraq is, in many ways, more shocking than any artwork one could produce ... It's about not letting those images be forgotten."
Street murals appear to be the most common form of remembrance, and Hyman photographed them in abundance. In bold color and image, municipalities from around New York State honor the World Trade Center victims, particularly the police officers and firefighters who lost their lives responding to the attacks. One Philadelphia mural takes a more aggressive tack. The phrase "This means war" hovers over the burning towers, flanked by a target image of the attack sites and a man plummeting amid a flurry of papers. Revenge, too, is a form of remembrance.
But tattoos provide the exhibition's most striking images. New York firefighter Tom Dalton shows off his forearms: the familiar POW /MIA emblem on his right arm; on the left, a similarly stylized FDNY/ MIA featuring a firefighter's silhouette backed by the twin towers.
"I wanted to deal with this notion of how we remember, since people keep saying, 'It should not be forgotten.' Well, how are we going to remember it, if it's only in media images, and media images are based on obsolescence?" Lasch says.
"The murals are probably the least permanent because a lot of the murals had already been painted over. It's the tattoos that last the longest. It's literally engraved in these people's skin, and it's really kind of the ultimate honor you can make for someone. I wanted to make a selection of as many forms as I could see of physical remembrance.
"If people are to walk out of there with one concept it would be that memory is a physical thing. And so is art. It's not just some concept."
Hyman, Lasch and others will hold a panel discussion at the exhibition opening Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. in the library's Rare Book Room. The show coincides with Lasch's Phantom Limbs and Twin Towers Go Global at a New York gallery, which also has an online component.
A complementary exhibition sits around the corner from the Hyman photographs, in the Perkins Library lobby gallery. The Life of Memorials: Manifestations of Memory at the Intersection of Public and Private is organized by Team Kenan, an initiative of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. The show asks a multitude of questions, such as how we choose what to memorialize, how we decide upon the form of the memorial and how that memorial's significance changes over time. Using the origami cranes of Sadako Sasaki, a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, as a unifying image, the exhibition consists of images and artifacts from memorials worldwide, placed next to provocative questions like "Is a new regime responsible for maintaining the memorials of an overthrown regime?" The questions provide interesting prompts to carry over to the Hyman photographs.
Laura Poitras' video installation O' Say Can You, visible through Oct. 22 in the Kreps Gallery at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, is also a response to 9/11. The video images she shot of Lower Manhattan in the hours after the towers fell capture the faces of onlookers as they look up, presumably at the space where the towers no longer stand. Slowed to half-speed, the footage brings out the subtleties of their expressions, suggesting a sense of community born from collective mourning. It's as if Bill Viola made a documentary film.
We see a nervous mother touch foreheads with her daughter, first consoling, then pointing and explaining. A stern, mustachioed man in a red turban, wearing an American flag pin on his lapel, aims a look of anger, disgust and an understanding absent from the other faces, perhaps playing out geopolitical reactions in his head. A woman with a cloth respirator turns to fix her teary eyes upward, arms folded over her chest as if she's not sure what to do with them. These faces show unique emotions that add up to a sense of universality. Together with the film's minimalist soundtrack, they bring an undertone of consolation.
At first, the sound is so small that one could think Poitras' video is silent. Then, a low, cyclic drone, like air moving through ducts, emerges, followed by slowed screeches and sounds that coalesce into the manipulated but recognizable voice of a singer. Through delays, holds and echoes, familiar scraps take form as "The Star-Spangled Banner" a version recorded during the New York Yankees' World Series run in October 2001.
Poitras will also give a talk at CDS on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. In another film event, the documentary film Rebirth will be screened at Duke's Nasher Museum of Art on Sept. 11 at 1 and 3 p.m. Director Jim Whitaker tells the stories of five people affected by the attacks, intercut with time-lapse sequences of the cleanup and redevelopment of ground zero up to the present day.
The absent buildings and the current site are the subjects of an architectural talk titled "The World Trade Center: A Complicated History," to be presented in the Assembly Room at North Carolina State's D. H. Hill Library on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. Kristen J. Schaffer will describe the public and academic reactions to the twin towers from an architectural and urban design standpoint, as well as the issues around memorialization and community since Sept. 11.
Musical responses were immediate after 9/11, and Mozart's "Requiem" was the preferred choice. At 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, Duke Chapel will resound with Mozart's powerful mass. The Duke Chapel Choir, the Duke Chorale, the Choral Society of Durham and the Orchestra Pro Cantores will be conducted by Rodney Wynkoop. Notable speakers such as Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead, Dean of Duke Chapel Sam Wells and Abdullah Antepli, Duke's Muslim chaplain, will precede the performance. Visiting composer/ pianist Karen Walwyn, who teaches music at Howard University, will also perform her work "Reflections on 9/11" in the Nelson Music Room on Sept. 10 at 8p.m.
Ganta has maintained its role as a crucial international literary journal. For the release of issue 116, titled "Ten Years Later," the journal is hosting more than 30 readings throughout the U.S., including one at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books on Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Chilean writer, activist and Duke professor Ariel Dorfman headlines the reading, which also includes biographer and novelist Randall Kenan (UNC-Chapel Hill), writer and historian Tim Tyson (UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke) and former News & Observer book critic J. Peder Zane (Saint Augustine's). The issue features fiction, nonfiction and poetry related to how post-bombing events have shaped issues and lives.