Trojan Horse

A + E Conference: Day Two

Day two in the coffee-and-crumpets conference world.

Patricia Johanson was a highlight. Not just because her presentation was comprehensive, wise, and dynamic. Not just because her work is ecologically restorative, respectful of local religions and cultures, and deeply rooted in community practice. Because in this field, where ideas are infectious, where doom is palpable, where the issues at hand are so huge as to be hilarious, Patricia Johanson has done the work. She’s gone out to Dallas and made a sculpture that restored a lagoon. She’s created a wetland sewage system that is both a tribute to and a habitat for an endangered species. She’s done it while continuing the dialogue both in terms of artistic form– sculpture, painting, light– and ecological relevance. Full disclosure: I asked for her autograph.

The morning started with the music of Sean Shepard— composed for the Nevada landscape. It continued through the cultural waters of Australia, tromped through Italy on Amy Franceschini’s Not A Trojan Horse, and announced the research project “Venue,” an extended journalistic road trip by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley.

On a day where MacArthur Genius fellow Jorge Pardo describes the houses he builds as not-architecture, author Bruce Sterling called for a reexamination of the definitions. “Disciplinary silos are breaking down in places like this,” he said. “You can actually hear them shattering.” What we have is not nature, he said. What we have is Next Nature, a world bereft of unaltered landscape. And the slow dawning is the sheer magnitude of the responsibility for that landscape.

The evening ended with a cocktail hour on the roof of the museum. On the one side, the mountains. Urban trees. On the other, the blinking lights of the biggest little city in the world. In a sense, Reno is the perfect setting for the destroying of silos.

Art as a Trojan horse

The latest print edition of Neural Magazine includes a single piece of yellow notepad paper – apparently at least. I haven’t seen it yet. On this sheet, readers are encouraged to write a letter  to the White House. This letter will be then filed away alongside the billions of others.

The special notepaper has been produced by computer artists Douglas Easterly and Matt Kenyon of SWAMP. Each line on the notepaper contains the micro-printed details of civilian casualties in Iraq. By sending it to the White House smuggling the ignored officially-ignored consequences of the Iraq war it created back into the White House. It’s a kind of Trojan horse. Sometimes it’s symbolically important just to get your own back on a culture that has ignored so many of the consequences of its actions.

This isn’t the first SWAMP project to commemorate the civilian dead in Iraq, largely ignored by the media. In 2005 they created their IED – improvised empathetic device, an electronic band worn around the arm. The armband was linked to the website Whenever news of a new US army fataility was posed on the site, the armband would be triggered to plunge a needle into the arm of the wearer, drawing blood and enforcing empathy through pain. “The LCD
readout displays the soldiers’ name, rank, cause of death and
location and then triggers an electric solenoid to drive a
needle into the wearers arm, drawing blood and immediate
attention to the reality that a soldier has just died in the
Iraq war.”

(Which sounds kind of brutal, but it’s probably less painful than the experience of seeing something like Thomas Hirshhorn’s The Incommensurable – yards and yards of photographs of the mutilated Iraqi dead culled from the web – at Fabrica a couple of months ago.)


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