Posts tagged ‘Iraq War’
There is one pair of hightop sneakers in Green Zone. Discarded shoes are yet another symbol of our consumer culture. I’ve seen several shoes used as plant containers, including a pair at Southside Community Land Trust’s City Farm.
Weeks after I installed Green Zone, a friend pointed out the sneakers and reminded me how empty boots symbolize a fallen soldier. Using military gear as memorials goes back at least a century (note: I’d like to find some specific citations). The “Battle Cross” consists of a soldier’s helmet atop the rifle with bayonet stuck in the ground; sometimes dogtags or empty boots are included as well.
In recent years, the boots themselves have become a potent war memorial. For example, in 2007, the American Friends Service Committee launched a traveling exhibit about the human cost of the Iraq War. Titled “Eyes Wide Open,” it includes a pair of boots to mark each American military casualty and a field of shoes (and wall) that pays tribute to Iraqis killed.
Besides the empty boots, flowers have long been used as war memorials. Red corn poppies are commonly found in Europe, particularly in disturbed soil, such as battlefields. During World War I, entire fields bloomed red–red with poppy flowers and red with soldiers’ blood. The poppy was adopted a symbol of fallen soldiers, most famously by Canadian serviceman John McCrae in his poem “In Flanders Fields” (1915). The opening words read “In Flanders fields the poppies blow | Between the crosses, row on row…”
The lecture: At RISD, artist Mel Ziegler presented solo work and collaborations with Kate Ericson. Their projects tweak notions about American history, sense of place, and government authority. For example, for Camouflaged History (1991), they painted a house in a military camouflage pattern using 72 paint colors approved by the local historic district commission in Charleston, SC. This and other site-specific projects often draw in the audience as interpreters and stewards of the artwork.
The book: Kenneth Helphand‘s Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime (2006) considers gardens created by soldiers in the trenches during WWI, Jews in European ghettos during WWII, Japanese-Americans in WWII internment camps, and soldiers on duty in the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, and Korea. By making gardens, soldiers and civilians can create green spaces that physically and mentally sustain them during wartime crisis. Helphand focuses on frontline rather than homefront experiences; more on Victory Gardens in a future post.
The exhibit: ReconnectUS.org presented a multimedia art show in Pawtucket: “Experiencing the War in Iraq.” This wide-ranging exhibit showcased individual responses to war, whether on the frontlines or the homefront.
Activated by Ziegler/Ericson, Helphand, and ReconnectUS.org, I imagined a garden that confronted current crises like ongoing war, food shortages, environmental disasters, record-high gas prices, and a growing national debt. Green Zone would draw from traditions of historic wartime gardens, but also reflect modern motivations to reuse disposable materials, to resist consumerism, and to question the role of the American civilian in the Iraq War.