Digitally projected gunpowder and graphite drawings at America Remixed, opening of the new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, November 19, 2010.
My body of work completed over more than a decade is testament to recent history. Following the 2001 September 11 attacks and their aftermath, I have attempted to fully realize the extent of wartime casualty. As an American experiencing the hostilities from a distance, my work is an attempt to comprehend the tragedy of these mediated events.
Gunpowder is central medium in much of my work. Incorporated into my drawings and installations, this material speaks to the volatile conditions from which my subject matter derives. Sometimes dampened, and thus rendered inert, the gunpowder also acts as a metaphor for the human potential to be compassionate and to promote peace — to create, rather than destroy.
Layered with graphite, gunpowder forms the basis of my large-scale drawings. The subjects of these drawings are sourced from pages of the New York Times and Boston Globe. American soldiers, Iraqi women, protestors, children: I study and transpose the faces of these individuals in my work. Such focus gives pause to the ceaseless shuffle of media news. Through this focus, I aim to capture a humanity which unites all casualties of war.
Often, these victims are anonymous — reduced to a number or, as fatalities of war, a series of names listed in succession. Just as it is hard to fathom the experience of war from this distance, it is hard to comprehend these innumerable deaths. Continuing my work with gunpowder, I began my first installation project, in 2010. a count visually numbers the war’s abstract statistics. Using gauze bandages (including WW II and Vietnam bandaging found on eBay) and ink-like gunpowder, fingerprint marks on streams of transparent fabric count the casualties – both military and civilian – resulting from the response to the 9/11 attacks. Installed from floor to ceiling, the streamers hang like peace flags from suspended steel rods
For Inventory, an ongoing project, I have created inventory cards for 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 Glock 19 pistols gone missing in Iraq. These cards are displayed and then taken from the walls by gallery visitors to be tracked as they are dispersed. Each person is asked to record the current location of the hand numbered card on my website. They may then transfer the card to someone else, who may in turn record it, keep it or pass it on. By registering the cards participants not only help track their location but also register their awareness of the haphazard dissemination of weapons worldwide.
My current projects in progress, War/No War and the Shadow War Series, investigate the latest phase of our nation’s armed conflicts in the Middle East, in which unmanned drones have come to replace combat troops as agents of war.
For War/No War, I am using the pages of the New York Times as a source of raw material. The pages with articles relevant to the subject are being scanned, reconstructed, and then re-printed on transparent sheets of Mylar. The Mylar acts as a plate which can be run through a printing press or hand burnished to create a monoprint with the transfer of ink onto paper. This labor-intensive process is the beginning of a transformation which attempts to distill the essential truth behind journalistic descriptions of events and bring attention to this ongoing, more tacit warfare.
Shadow War encompasses the totality of my artistic practice, bridging the new materials and techniques of War/No War and the forms of previous installations and works on paper. Composed of roughly 300 unique pieces when complete, this project is another attempt to mark events through accumulation. In this instance, the number of images corresponds to the approximate number of American airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2012 and to a similar number that have occurred in Pakistan since the United States began its clandestine drone program there in 2004.
In recent years I have been expanding my studio work to encompass a more socially active component. Although unsettling world events have informed my art work for many years I see, even in our current global situation, the potential for peace. How would things be different if the injustices suffered by women around the globe, especially those traumatized by war, ceased? Educating and empowering women could very well transform this paradigm and lead to more peaceful, egalitarian societies. I believe that training women to be economic catalysts will help to alleviate poverty and transform the conditions that lead to oppression, brutality and terrorism. My most recent project, One to One, collaborates directly with women from Afghanistan who are attending literacy programs there and in Pakistan.