Narrative truth

By GREG COOK  |  November 11, 2009

Wodiczko is known for large-scale and often politically charged outdoor video installations, like the 1998 piece commissioned by the ICA that featured projections on the Bunker Hill Monument addressing contemporary violence in surrounding Charlestown. Through November 22 at the Venice Biennale, he’s representing Poland with video projections that make it seem as if visitors were looking out frosted windows at immigrants at work. But when it comes to . . . Out of Here, I’m happy to claim him as one of our own. Hurray to the ICA for giving major play to a local artist.

Showcases of local artists at, say, the ICA and Museum of Fine Arts are few and far between, and they tend to be prize exhibits that many — both inside and outside the museums — see as charity for local artists rather than as a real statement of support. We need to expect more from our museums if we aspire to be a major art center. And the museums need to do more to get local art seen nationally. The Danforth’s 2006 survey of Boston Expressionist Hyman Bloom opened at New York’s Yeshiva University Museum two weeks after the painter died this August. But most local shows featuring local artists — and that includes this one — don’t travel.

. . . Out of Here — which was organized by the ICA’s Carole Anne Meehan (before she left for the Houston Arts Alliance) and finished by ICA associate curator (and former Phoenix scribe) Randi Hopkins — is part of a series of works Wodiczko has made based on interviews with American and British military veterans. Monitors at the ICA document his The Veteran Vehicle Project in Denver during the Democratic National Convention last year and War Veteran Vehicle in Liverpool this year. For these, Wodiczko replaced the guns of a Humvee and a British military truck with projectors and speakers that broadcast veteran interviews and projected their words onto city walls. His repurposing of military vehicles is an original touch, but the texts are more statements than anecdotes. Another monitor shows his Veterans’ Flame video installation, which he did this year in a former munitions vault on New York City’s Governors Island. A flame flickers in synch with vets’ accounts of witnessing, up close, people die in war. The stories are wrenching, and the installation prompts thoughts of the monuments we build to remember our war dead, but the flame has limited visual allure.

. . . Out of Here is scarier, more visceral, more heartbreaking. Rather than have someone recount a memory, Wodiczko involves us in a visual and audio experience that becomes our memory. The installation mixes voices of actors, veterans, and refugee workers with real video and special effects to create a heightened distillation of the Iraq War. Some of the voiceover acting feels flat, and the script can seem a bit neat after repeated hearings, but it gets under your skin. The repeating eight-minute cycle is like cycles of violence, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

After the gunfire, there’s shouting. “On the balcony!” “What the fuck was that?” An explosion. Smoke rises in front of the windows. “Holy shit!” Gunfire. “Second window on the left.” Bullets shatter our room’s windows, punch holes in the walls. Maybe the shooters are shooting at us. Maybe the attackers are in here with us. Or somewhere else in this building, or nearby. Maybe the soldiers outside — like us — aren’t sure what the hell is going on. Maybe we’re in here hiding from the war.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Barack Obama, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S. Armed Forces,  More more >
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