The WAR RUG PROJECT @ the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) runs through October 9, 2011.
Join us Oct 9 :: War Rug Printmaking Sunday 2 pm @ the GRAM
Making + Talking
Making + Talking, Sept 10, 2011
"Twin Towers- Tribute Rug Carpet-9/11 2001- USA History" was completed on the morning of Sunday, September 11, 2011 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The finishing touch was to place the firecracker fringe that Tim made underneath.
Made only of loose spices, seeds and colored sugar, the installation took about six days to construct. It replicates a 9/11 war rug I purchased on Ebay a few months ago, and its title comes from the real rug's Ebay listing. I find Afghan War Rugs fascinating and tragic, as they are artifacts that reflect the effect of war and strife on a centuries-old tradition, and they are woven by women with little voice in Afghan society.
I was fortunate to be able to build the rug while the museum was open, and had many conversations with people in the process. Lots of questions about the origin of the patterns (carpets woven by Afghanis since the 1970s), the spices used (sesame, ginger, poppy, cumin, oregano, hot red pepper, flour and salt, nutmeg and colored sugar (the blue)), and what keeps it there (gravity!). Did I weave the real carpets? (no, they are my muse). Were they made before September 11, 2001? (no).
The museum staff and security guards were wonderful, enthusiastic, inquisitive and supportive. Also understandably concerned that something would happen to the fragile artwork. They were correct! The first impact happened just minutes before my talk, when a little boy dropped his toy onto it. Oops! But, the imperfection let the rug reveal itself for what it really is... Spices.
We will pull prints of the installation on the last day of the show, Sunday October 9 at 2:00 pm. Join us!
I originally started this to participate in Art Prize, which I had visited last year. When GRAM selected me, it was a terrific honor. Their exhibit opened in early September, coinciding with eerie perfection to the anniversary of 9/11. Thus, the War Rug Project installation was on view for two weeks before the Art Prize even began on Wednesday, Sept 21.
Art Prize is an open art competition with the public as the judge. It takes place from Sept 21 - Oct 5 and really transforms the city. For two weeks, all of downtown Grand Rapids is crawling with people looking at and talking about art. Museums, corporate atriums, bank lobbies, resturants and pubs, hotels, empty storefronts, schools, churches, bridges, fountains and parking lots are taken over by 1500 artists. The range of work -- subject matter, sophistication, materials, techniques, is all over the map. And the range of people looking as well. From sophisticated afficianados to people who've never set foot in a museum before. Mostly the latter, I suspect. Lots of kids. A snapshot of democracy and an excellent audience for the War Rug Project.
When Tim and I drove in that Friday night, we thought a concert must have just let out because there were so many people on the street. Not so. It was Art Prize. On Saturday, 29,000 people went through the museum.
The GRAM is a beautiful "green" building (see pictures here), the first museum to be environmentally LEED-certified Gold. When it exceeds capacity -- if too many people are in the building (and breathing) -- the carbon dioxide that is exhaled sets off the building's CO2 monitor alarm. Then no one can enter until someone else leaves. That happened several times over the course of the day. Fortunately no one fainted ; )!
A little schumtz on the upper left corner.
Once ArtPrize was in full swing, I joined many of the other artists who stood by their work and fielded questions. I lasted about a day. It was overwhelming! I decided to just leave the installation be, and trust people to figure it out. Tim had suggested I make some laminated books about the project, so they were available as were labels and a nice video that the museum produced.
Meanwhile, my rug was left unattended for people to see and smell, to poke and pull. Many people were interested, a few very clearly didn't care for it. A man who was a 9/11 first responder introduced himself, as did a couple who had traveled in Afghanistan in the 1970s. It was fascinating to be able to talk with them.
Then I noticed something I didn't anticipate. I knew the rug would get damaged, and suspected that once the distress reached a certain point, people would recognize it was not a real rug, and was fragile, and wouldn't touch it. That proved to be the case... except for little kids. They had no idea and were often much quicker than their parents.
But what really surprised me was how many people blamed the museum for not taking care of the artwork. I probably should have known that would happen, but I assumed that people would understand ephemeral art. Maybe they'd seen a Buddhist sand mandala before. Certainly the GRAM staff really wanted to protect it, and only reluctantly indulged my desire that it remain unfettered. But people were upset, and several complained. What with that, and the kids, after a week, I decided to have the stanchions put back in place. I am sure everyone in Security breathed a big sign of relief. (Hopefully not setting off any CO2 alarms...!)
photo by Peter Koenen
More schmutz on the lower left. (Nice fringe, eh?)
A friend once described the distresses that a war rug installation endures as letting the rug "reveal itself."
You can see the day-by-day progress here. And read about the 9/11 rugs here.
So, I didn't make the Top Ten at Art Prize. I won't be able to quit my job to be a full-time artist, or donate $125,000 to Afghan Women's causes. But it has been a wonderful experience in many, many ways, filled with family, friends, and perfect strangers who become friends. Artists and the rest of us, figuring out what it all means.
Join us on Sunday if you can as we pull three prints of the spice installation, destroying and preserving it at the same time. 2:00 pm. Or, wait for the next e-newsletter for the play-by-play. And hopefully a video from my niece Samantha, who has been interviewing visitors for her class project. And more photos by Dianne and Rob Burdick and John Corriveau.
photo by Peter Koenen
Heartfelt thanks go to the friends of the War Rug Project. Your support makes a huge difference -- spiritually and financially. I could not do this without you!
Alpha Bruton :: Julie Banzhaf Stone :: Robert J. Tassone :: Chuck Thurow :: William Zbaren and Robert Sharoff :: Delphine Cannon :: Katharine Banzhaf :: Beverly Koenen (thanks Mom!) :: Duane Fimreite :: Janet Carl Smith :: Pat Casler :: Alicia Berg :: Michelle Boone :: Deborah and Glenn Doering :: Carrie Hanson :: Anonymous :: Jackie Kazarian :: Pooja Vukosavich :: Chris Gent :: Shirley Patton :: Kristin Dean :: Kristin Patton :: Carolina Jayaram :: Laura Samson :: Esther Grimm :: Karen Paluzzi Steele :: Carol Reisinger :: Dr. David Hinkamp :: Marguerite Horberg :: Dianna Frid :: :: Annie Morse :: Doug VanderHoof :: Neiman Brothers :: Tim Samuelson :: Alison Neidt Toonen :: Lynn Basa :: Mary Wittig :: John Vinci :: Jane Bretl :: Iain Muirhead :: Adam Brooks :: Deborah Boardman :: Lisa Roberts :: and several anonymous donors. You are all terrific!
Special thanks to Samantha, Max and Daniel Koenen, who have been wonderful hosts to their Aunt. And to Elizabeth, who is an amazing mom to them and sister in law to me. My little brother Rob, their dad and captain of the ship. And of course Tim, my love and sweetheart.
I think we've raised the whole $5,000 needed for this phase of the project, but am still reconciling the Indie Gogo website with other contributions. Will start on gifts soon. If you'd still like to help out, click here to learn more. Heartfelt thanks to everyone!!
Bob Cassilly (red) and Tim (blue) walking through Cementland last Fall.
On a sadder note, our friend the visionary artist Bob Cassilly died last week. He was found in a bulldozer that had rolled on the grounds of his quixotic endeavor, Cementland. With Bob, though, what might seem quixotic to us would be completely realizable. Case in point, the City Museum, his masterwork in downtown St. Louis...
Picture an old shoe factory that bursts at the seams with tunnels, dragons, pipe organs, 7-story jungle gyms, 10-story slides, ferris wheels and a cantilevered school bus teetering over the edge of the roof. Add a Circus, a Thrift Store, an architecture museum. Two Aquariums. The world's largest No. 2 pencil. Great pizza and a bar in an old log cabin. What a wonderful place.
Bob's obituary in the New York Times, and our photos of Cementland from a visit last fall.
Thanks, Bob, for sharing your wonder.
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