Monday, September 5, 2011
By Tom Wachunas
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” - Genesis 4: 10-13 –
“Like me, she was merely a bystander to the events, but they played a role in the coming of war to her country. I wonder how life changed for her and how she views the events surrounding that day.”
- Heather Bullach, from the statement for her portrait “Iraqi Girl” in the Anderson Creative exhibition, “The Persistence of Memory” -
From the beginning, we humans have demonstrated a ghastly propensity for hurting each other. All of our history is imprinted with unspeakable injustices and cruelties. In my lifetime thus far, none of those horrors is more towering, literally or symbolically, than 9/11. To the extent that scars from a tragedy of that enormity can take many forms, long and deep, I don’t believe that all our wounds will ever completely heal. I wasn’t alive, for example, during the Holocaust, but encountering its recorded history still chills me to the bone. In these matters, time, in and of itself, heals nothing. Nor should we expect it to. For we are beings that remember. And remembrance, when engaged in a spirit of honoring the sanctity of human life, is a salve most precious.
With the exhibition called “The Persistence of Memory,” Anderson Creative and guest curator Dr. Fredlee Votaw – who has himself made compelling artworks about human tragedies – have gathered a richly varied group of artists to remember 9/11. The group is comprised of adults who remember the day itself, 20 year-olds who were then children, and current fifth-graders from Lake Elementary who have processed the awful event as told/shown to them by others. The participating adults and 20-somethings are Michelle DeBellis, Diane Belfiglio, James B Studios, Heather Bullach, Sharon Charmley, Judith Christy, Scott Alan Evans, Annette Yoho Feltes, Barb Hoskins, Rick Huggett, Chris Triner, and myself (forever grateful to be included).
What makes this show easily among Anderson Creative’s most powerful to date goes well beyond its timely thematic unity (commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11) and its excellence of craft. Without ever succumbing to blustery, obtuse politicizing or philosophizing, the works collected here are seething with emotional accessibility and disarming sincerity.
Particularly heartrending is the group of 45 color drawings of faces on paper – “Portraits of the Departed” - by the Lake Elementary students. Most of the faces, with eerily hollow eyes, are bordered with text that reveals something of their lives – dreams of futures never realized.
Heather Bullach’s stunning oil portrait – “Iraqi Girl” – is a warm, wondrously generous reaching out to embrace the impact of 9/11 on an “alien” culture as inexorably caught up in its aftermath as our own. Faces abound, too, in Sharon Charmley’s oil and collage, “The Agony of Grief and Relief,” a scene depicting an attended wall of missing persons notices – ubiquitous New York City sites where anguish and joy comingled. One of the notices hangs loose off the surface, reading “Sometimes I still think I might see you and get a chance to say goodbye.”
“Temporary Tattoo” is a jarringly honest written testimony by Judith Christy. It tells of her emotional passing from an intense, extended state of social awareness and patriotic fervor immediately after 9/11, eventually into a settled if not sad “life goes on” mode of fighting complacency while looking to be impassioned again.
From the statement accompanying Diane Belfiglio’s crisp 2002 acrylic painting, “In Memoriam,” we are drawn to a bittersweet irony. The painting is of the William McKinley Mausoleum, its imposing stone facade sparkling in the bright sunlight, and rendered in a way hauntingly mindful of World Trade Center verticality. Belfiglio was working on this very painting just as her husband called with news of the plane attacks.
Even more bittersweet, Annette Yoho Feltes’ work, a mobile sculpture suggestive of wind chimes, called “Birds,” was inspired by a remembered National Public Radio interview. Therein a mother said that her daughter - who was on that morning in a daycare center very near the Towers - reported looking out the window and seeing many birds in the air. These of course were the bodies of falling people. Feltes’ 200 small, white porcelain bird forms hang in two groups – ‘towers’ - counterweighted by a larger form, a hovering black ‘plane’ a few feet away. Despite all the terrible images that the work might potentially bring to mind, it doesn’t so much signify to me a procession of descending bodies as it evokes an inspiring ascension of spirits.
It is indeed this same spirit of evocation that is present in most of the works here. Neither too morbid nor preachy, what prevails is a distinct sense of quiet mourning and solemn reverence. And for all of that, I think of this show as a potent, collective prayer.
Photo: “Iraqi Girl,” oil portrait by Heather Bullach (courtesy Craig Joseph, Anderson Creative). THE PERSISTENCE Of MEMORY at Anderson Creative, THROUGH OCTOBER 1, at 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours Wednesdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5pm. www.andersoncreativestudio.com