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More Consuming War

interview with Dolores Wilber- Tooth and Nail20 at Hyde Park Art Center

FNews - Please describe the piece which you produced.

Dolores Wilber - Tooth and Nail20 is a 20-celled looped video and audio projection on the Façade, as well as inside the Hyde Park Art Center that combines images of a wet, grinning mouth of silvered teeth, red and black hand grenades fondled in a kind of shell game, a close-up of charred ash, nails, and metal debris, and a safety pin spinning on a piece of filament. There is a clicking noise as the grenades play against each other. There is a bowl of metal nails that are examined and mixed, the harsh sound of metal against metal. Comprised of images and abstracted audio, the work contains no spoken text. The images appear simultaneously in a moving video grid of grenades, metal teeth, detritus of a fragmented bomb and single safety pins in the front windows of the Art Center.

F- Please tell me about the process that was required to produce a work like Tooth and Nail?

DW- The video reflects several years of research on individual acts of violence and the faith that is touted or reflected in suicide bombing, beheadings, acts of humiliation and torture, and the overwhelmingly gruesome and personal violence of war. It asserts that the violence and the consumption of war is inescapable, it is literally inside all of us. Deliberating on infinitesimal splinters of hope, the piece ponders if we have any reason for hope.

F - What were you intending that the beholder of the work would experience?

DW - Images of war have become everyday now and many of us have become numb to them. Initially many who were horrified by the invasion of Iraq, other desecrated countries and by 9/11, have understandably become frozen to it all, trying to go on living our lives with a sense or normalcy. I think we have a responsibility to keep showing images that remind us the violence has not ended and that it in fact continues and escalates. It is paramount that we belly up to the images of advertising that surround and assault us to buy materials to be all of the things that our culture tells us to be: rich and successful, beautiful, svelte, well-heeled with gorgeous clothing and great haircuts, and let's not forget, the very best in leading technological wizardry in communication objects, and all that comes along with the advertised self. We need to devise strategies to insert into the every day—images of war and responsibility and perhaps a willful hope—ones that don't necessarily offer "the" answer, but raise the question and keep it alive.

F - What were you intending that the beholder of the work would experience?

DW - Each video cell is approximately 4x6 feet, larger than most viewers. A repetition of the various moving images bleed to red every 8 minutes. Similarities, differences, and repetition, while not presented with a specific beginning or end, encourage the viewers to put the images in different orders that make sense of their own experience. The piece does not seek to provide the answer. It does present an inherent point of view and raises questions that are not immediately answerable. The images might invite different associations with gangsters or rap (with silver-covered teeth) or with street violence (though grenades are more closely associated with war than the guns and knives used in street crime) but I think that the combination of images adds up to a meditation on the violence inherent in the individual acts of war that exist, in other occupied territories but even in our own neighborhoods, and that the violence is ultimately inescapable in the way we now live.

F - Did the experience of making this piece cause you to reflect on the experience of war?

DW - Sometimes urgencies over take us, they choose us. We don't choose them. The war in Iraq, the fact of war throughout the world, the personal nature of the violence, demands a consensus of attention. This work, like most of my video and print work, derives initially from a live performance, in this case, Mountains Clouds Turbulence Coastlines (2005) that was presented at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Performing Art Chicago PAC/edge Festival at the Athenaeum Theater and in North Carolina at the Asheville Fringe Festival in 2006, as well as Heads or Tails, an installation at the Site Unseen Festival at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2006. My performance work is virtually always collaborative, with singular self-authored works evolving from the initial research. In this case my primary collaborators were Steven L. Thompson, Douglas Grew, Matthew Owens, and the ten-year old Alex Schorsch, who has since grown older. Mountains Clouds Turbulence Coastlines The elements named in Mountains Clouds Turbulence Coastlines are all fractals, self-similar bits that describe things that share certain characteristics but are still very different from one another. All mountains share certain characteristics, all clouds, all kinds of wind or weather or turbulence, all coastlines share that they demarcate the separation between dry land and sea, they are in between. And yet, they are all essentially different and unique. Our own bodies are fractals. All of the elements in Mountains were construed in journeys of discovery or pilgrimages if you will, and are all metaphors for what we go through. A classic pilgrimage is taken with the idea of penance, of sorrow, and with the intent to make something right that was wrong, to make an attempt to change. To take this kind of journey presupposes the questions: How do we change? How do we get better? How do we evolve? And in this particular case: Is it possible, and if it is, how do we get to a place of peace? Mountains began with research into the life of active suicide bombers, young potential suicide bombers, those who had lost dear ones to bombs and beheadings, researching how to make a hand grenade, how to behead, how to make a head, how to understand punishment, and the personal violence of war, how to understand how to bear to think about how to have hope in the face of the violence, and to consider how things might possibly change. The willingness to lose one's own life to kill and maim, the unspeakable fact of the degradation and torture witnessed at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib (the site of the U. S. prisons for captured, reputed, Iraqi prisoners of war) constituted some of the research areas that lay the basis for this work. In the performance Alex, a young boy of ten years old tried to understand the fact of suicide bombers who are willing to give their lives for what they believe is right, and he listens to two boys, Ahmed and Mohammed, who are 12-years old, and how one doesn't want to die without the other, and how they both want to die a suicide martyr, one not better than the other. Alex contemplates the idea of appropriate forms of punishment with guidance from a 1950s Scoutmasters Guide on "how to properly discipline a boy" and matters of the heart. He considers the theory of thermodynamics and the study of energy and he, too, tries to understand how things change. Mostly he watches what happens, silently. He wonders if we can take a leap, like a flying squirrel into another trail of stars, a genetic leap that would land us on more powerful and peaceful ground. He watches, in large-scale video projection, two men who are sometimes "headless," decapitated, or who have simply lost their heads, investigate the making of a hand grenade, as if they were conducting a live cooking show on television. A hand-wrestling duel takes place. Suicide bombers' longing for death is pondered and suicide music is in excess. The two men try to make a home for themselves and try to have tea together. The set objects include work by sculptor, Ryan Swanson, who constructs amalgams of furniture and house materials that have lost their identity in the home and are precarious, suffering form a kind of borderline personality disorder. Matthew Owens plays a bagpipe in the performance and constructed the cast heads of the performers. This work, along with Heads or Tails which addresses the failure of words, is documented at the Art Center as background for the making of Tooth and Nail20.

F - Has your participation in Consuming War required research?

DW - Research for this kind of work is extensive, as well as the collaborative process of experimentation with everyday gestures, iconic gestures and movements, reading of news media, novels, nonfiction narratives, reviewing films, photographs and sound. Some of the research included: Death in Gaza (HBO film by James Miller about the children in Gaza who were interested in becoming suicide bombers, it was meant to also include the children in Israel but the filmmaker was killed by the Israeli army before he finished the film); Mash (film directed by Robert Altman and fictional novel written by Richard Hooker on the Korean War); Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag; When We were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman, Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault; A Mighty Heart by Marian Pearl about the kidnapping and beheading of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl; Who Killed Daniel Pear? by Bernard-Henri Levy; Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib (International Center of Photography, NYC); and Scout Masters in Action by Walter G. MacPeek. Audio research included vast amounts of material, and artists including Leon Kingstone, Heitor Alvelos, Deerhof, Circle Square, Black Dice, Darnell Hawkins, and Ennio Morricone with Peter Tavis.

F - It seems that political art in the U.S. has received less attention than it does in Europe. If you agree, why do you feel this is so?

DW - I think that political work gets more attention in Europe than in the U.S. because the European population is more politically aware than the United States. The news coverage is not so laundered as it is here and there is more interest in world politics, less isolationism. The European population seems to have more consciousness of itself and its own interests that are aligned with a human interest that crosses national boundaries. There is more denial in the United States citizenry. I think there is also more fear in the United States. The every day American and American family sees the decline in the standard of living in the U.S., and sees that China and Russia and other parts of the world are beginning to experience a rise in the standard of living. People fear they will lose what they have and worry about the future of their children. They fear experiencing the struggle that other countries have endured. Many other countries have also experienced war on their own soil, they have survived it and they know its cruelty. Here people have a denial that this kind of cruelty will visit them at home, and yet they also fear it. Therefore, it is difficult for them to think about it and they don't want to look at material that makes them think about it. There is also a lethargy and sense of helplessness in the face of the tremendous power of the U.S. government's actions to suppress anti-war sentiment. There is a hopelessness regarding whether we can make a difference, or have any impact on much of anything, much less the war. A sense of international community and a shared worldview that war can be defeated needs to be built for people in the United States to overcome their denial, lethargy and fear.

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