The large back room of Krzysztof Wodiczko's show ...Out of Here: The Veterans Project, at Gallery Lelong, is darkened, the walls painted grey and the lights turned off. Windows are projected high onto the gallery walls, creating the illusion that light is coming in from outside. Audio fills the space as I fix my gaze on the passing clouds and sky seen through the windows. Children are heard playing outside. They are out of view on the other side of the wall. Through the dirty industrial panes of glass I see their ball being tossed passed the windows. They round the corner of the building, still tossing the ball, when suddenly it is thrown into the window, breaking the glass. Women are heard calling to one another. Its hard to identify their language, and its not until the silhouette and sound of a helicopter appear that i begin to place myself on either of the two fronts of America's wars. A minute later, a military vehicle on patrol is heard moving along the same path as the children. Muddled English speaking voices are heard over the crackle of radio communication. Suddenly, there is an explosion. A fireball rises up, breaking the window. Chaos ensues. Someone shouts, "I.E.D.," and as they are heard scrambling, a firefight erupts. Bullets pierce the windows overhead. Mortar rounds puncture the walls below, exposing blue sky. The troops return fire, but struggle to identify the enemy. They gather up their wounded, leaving an injured child in the street. Moments after they leave, the women return to the scene and are heard screaming and crying.
...Out of Here aims to simulate the impossibility of relating to the horrors of war without directly experiencing them. In preparation for the piece, Wodiczko interviewed veterans and civilians of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The events that unfold, however, are anything but particular experiences. The narrative felt familiar, culled from the headlines of western news stories. The I.E.D., confusion and the disregard for civilian casualties represent the base elements of today's wars. By omitting details of place, circumstance, and by making the people invisible, Wodiczko creates an abstract war zone. This anonymity prevents the possibility of the viewer feeling any sense of loss. A sense of danger and fright is attempted in the viewer, but the low budget digital rendering of the I.E.D. explosion fell flat. It was around this point that I began to feel pushed into a corner. The anonymity eclipsed any emotional interaction and the portrayal of violence only pointed out the situation's artifice. Without a diligent attempt to represent conflict, how can we level an opinion on the effectiveness of that representation? What kind of ball was played with? Which war was being fought? Which innocent child died? These are the variables that make caring possible. These were the variables that Wodiczko omitted to crassly illustrate a delicate problem.
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