Booklyn Artists Alliance

...even the birds were on fire...

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Curated by Marshall Weber

This piece is important because it takes what we artists have been saying in private and says it in public.
- Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Artist, NPR radio commentator

The ...even the birds were on fire... exhibition is a multi-media arts exhibit anchored by eleven artists books, including the massive collage work The Scroll. The complete exhibit is accompanied by a performance artwork of the same title, readings and workshops by the artists and writers of the exhibition's books, and community meetings on topics raised by the exhibition.
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Our intention is to present the exhibition in a collaborative relationship with host and other local organizations to diverse audiences throughout the world. The main goal of the exhibition is to use art, literature and community meetings to both offer a more human alternative to the mass media's interpretation of current historical events and to catalyze dialogs concerning peaceful conflict resolution as motivated by informed citizenship and a global historical perspective.
Using works of art by New York City Artists who witnessed the 9/11 attack, the ...even the birds were on fire... exhibition examines the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath: the United States' catastrophic war on 'Terrorism' and continuing Islamic Fundamentalist violence. The exhibit provides the context of a dialog concerned with waging peace instead of war and with seeking non-violent solutions to counter the escalating violence of both organized and covert military solutions.
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The books, exhibit and performances are physical evocations of the emotional atmosphere of the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center and its aftermath. In a brief two-month period of shock and mourning New York City's commercial character, with its ubiquitous advertising and official signage were all obscured by missing posters, poetry and urban folk art memorials. It was as if the public dialog needed poetry to attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible. A historical moment had opened in the city's consciousness and the city became an immense public library with its pages open upon the street chronicling intense grief and searching inquiry. The exhibit preserves that moment and furthers that inquiry, seeking to build empathy for all victims of violence.

The Books
The books are montages of the personal observations of witnesses from New York City not available in the mainstream media (which concentrated on the spectacle of the physical attack on the WTC Towers). These books offer an alternative perspective that focuses on the tidalwave of texts and images that washed over the city in the aftermath of 9/11. The books are available for hands-on reading at discreet, small, comfortable reading stations and/or are installed in site-specific ways. Enlargements of selected photographs and texts from the books will be displayed in the exhibit area. The Scroll, the largest book in the exhibit, is installed by hanging from the ceiling in a variety of configurations.

1. Eleven, 2002, a photo-essay of the visual and text environment of New York City in the days and weeks after 9/11. The book has an innovative structure of alternating vertical and horizontal page-spread orientation. This alternation prompts the reader to rotate the book 90 degrees clockwise with each page turn. A small white or black silhouette of the WTC Towers rises from the bottom right hand corner of each page-spread helping the reader keep the proper page orientation. Two recessed bars on the front cover recall the missing Towers and act as a mnemonic device to remind the reader of the front cover location since the direction of page turning varies with the page orientation. The constant re-orientation produces a visceral experience of vertigo that evokes the disorienting atmosphere of 9/11. In the exhibition the Eleven book is mounted on a turntable for easy manipulation by readers. A CD of the texts in Eleven, recited by their authors, and composed by Christopher Wilde accompanies the book.
Eleven includes writing by poet Ellis Avery, Judith Foster (director of a downtown Manhattan public elementary school), journalist MT Karthik, poet/chanteuse Jane LeCroy, poet/activist Peter Spagnuolo, and Marshall Weber. Published by Booklyn in an edition of 25.

Link for a detailed descrition, exhibition and collection history of the Eleven book.

2. ...even the birds were on fire... For the victims of violence, 2001, a book of poetry fragments with a minute-to-minute timeline of the 9/11 events, published and edited by Sara Parkel of Filter Press. With writing by Shane Beversdorf, Amy Ferrara, Sara Parkel, Esther Smith, and others. Published in a paper edition of 150 and a cloth prayer flag edition of 6. In the exhibit the book is hung between arched bamboo poles and surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags.

3. Get Your War On, 2002, an acerbic comic book of penetrating social commentary about the aftermath of 9/11 (focusing of the U.S. bombing and invasion of Afghanistan) by David Rees. Spurred by the international notoriety of his website of the same name Rees published an edition of 1,000 books to raise money for the United Nation's Adopt a Minefield project. Booklyn is now distributing the artist's proofs of this book as a further fundraiser for Adopt-A-Minefield.

4. Haste with the Hasting Current, 2001, a lyric and romantic photo essay of New York City in the months before the 9/11 attack from the perspective of a poet/paddler in a canoe on the East River and on Newton Creek. Excerpts from Walt Whitman's poem of the same name are overlaid on poet Peter Spagnuolo's hand-printed photographs. Published by Booklyn, edition of 12.

5. IX XI MI, by Mac McGill, 2003, book design by Mark Wagner, This heroically-scaled book collects all eight of McGill’s tumultuously emotional pen and ink images of the events of 9/11, first seen in issue 32 of World War III Illustrated. The work was also featured in the group show Reactions at Exit Art (26 January—30 March, 2002). This original work was subsequently purchased by the Smithsonian for its permanent collection. The book measures approximately 11 by 14 inches, with 22 inch page spreads. The images are letterpress printed from magnesium plates, with text in lead type, onto Rives heavy weight paper. End sheets are of blood-red Moriki, with laminated jet-black buckram covers. The folios are pamphlet-stitched. Published by Booklyn in an edition of 65 plus artist’s proofs.

6. Propaganda, 2002, a beautiful 'zine of beautifully precise typography pairing concisely edited quotes from Hollywood executives and Bush Administration bureaucrats. It exposes the complicity of Hollywood in the government's warmongering. Published in an edition of 26 by Alison Williams of Doublevision Press, Bisbee, AZ.

7. The Coup, 2001, a multiple format 'zine, with an audio CD. It features the first publication of New Jersey's current Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka's controversial Somebody Blew Up America poem, and articles and photo essays about the Bush/Gore election controversy. Published in in an edition of 27 by Alison Williams of Doublevision Press, Bisbee, AZ.

8. 12/11, 2001, a photo essay of New York City which was photographed all in one day on December 11. 2001. The book focuses on various displays of the American flag and each image has lyrics from the classic song America the Beautiful printed on its back (in antique steel die Empire font no less). It is the little sister of the Eleven book. By Marshall Weber and Mark Wagner. Published by Booklyn, edition of 13.

9. Twenty Six Days, 2002, a small 'zine by MT Karthik which refer to the 26 days in between 9/11 and the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Features various international writers' interpretations of the historical context for 9/11 and its aftermath. Published by Fifty Foot Pine Tree Press, LA, CA, edition of 26.

10. The Scroll is a unique 45-foot long and 8-foot high collage composed of texts, images and other ephemera collected from the streets of New York during the weeks following 9/11. It contrasts newspaper articles with elementary school letters, personal correspondences and the ubiquitous missing posters found on New York City streets.

11. Untitled Stack, 2003, an immense unique journal of reportage by MT Karthik and a huge selection of articles collected by MT Karthik and Amy Ferraro that documents and schematically analyses media coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath, including various pro-peace demonstrations and international reactions to the event. The 'Stack' is a magnet for readers! Published by Fifty Foot Tall Pine Tree Press, LA, CA.

Exhibition visitors are invited to write/draw/attach their commentaries into a book or scroll made for each exhibition site.

Audio Installation
The five channel ...even the birds were on fire... audio installation consists of location sound from 9/11 and texts by a diverse range of poets and political commentators including Amiri Baraka, Noam Chomsky and members of the Revolutionary Association of Afghani Women (RAWA). The audio installation also includes the sounds of planes, helicopters and military jets, which circle the exhibition space relentlessly creating an atmosphere of anxiety reminiscent of 9/11.

Historical Poster Exhibit
A collection of international anti-war and pro-peace posters and ephemera ranging from Vietnam era protest materials to recent Adopt-A-Minefield information illustrates both practical and idealistic populist approaches to pro-peace activities.

Sculptural Installations

1. Ghost Suit #2, Al Aqsa Remembrance, 2001, Marshall Weber.
An ash covered and cut-up business suit from an ...even the birds were on fire... performance, suspended in the form of an exploding figure, from a site’s walls and/or ceiling.

2. Ghost Suit #3, San Francisco 1989 Remembrance, 2002, Marshall Weber. An ash covered business suit from an ...even the birds were on fire... performance.

3. American Flag Burqua, 2001, Marshall Weber.
A burqua made from American flags and used in all the performances.

The Performance
The performance consists of scenes where Marhall Weber and MT Karthik and locally recruited performers enact intimate ritual actions that parallel the emotional and physical states of trauma and recovery. These scenes alternate with dialogs that involve audience members. Rituals include handing participants dust-masks to prepare for the event, a dance choreographed from observations of the gestures of escaping survivors on the streets and subways, and the slow cutting off of a business suit. The performance ends with Weber burning his hair in an ancient mourning ritual (found throughout human culture), and evoking the smell of death. The performance is a changing ongoing artwork that incorporates current events and feedback from the touring exhibition.

The set includes The Scroll, the five channel audio installation, and other variable components.

Exhibit History
The ...even the birds were on fire... tour has visited:
1. Nov., 12, 2001, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA
2. Nov., 13, 2001, The LAB, San Francisco, CA, including performance with Fred Rinne.
3. Nov. 14-Dec. 4, 2001, Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, including performance with MT Karthik.
4. Feb. 12, 2002, Hokin Center of Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois, including performance with Stan Shellabarger.
5. Sept. 11-October 7, 2002, 33&1/3 Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
6. Sept. 11, 2002, Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, Dixon Place Theater, NYC, including performance with Alison E. Williams.
7. March 11-May 11, 2003, University of New Hampshire, Durham
8. February 2-April 23, 2004, components of the exhibit appeared at the Jody Monroe Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
9. June 9, 2004, Seoul International Book Fair, South Korea, performance
10. September 23 –November 12, 2004, Flux Factory, The Scroll, Queens, NY
11. February 7 – March14, 2005, Bard College, The Scroll, Annandale on Hudson, NY

Again and again history teaches us that the surviving witness of a violent catastrophic trauma has an ethical and existential crisis that either provides the opportunity for the witness to actively empathize with all those have who similarly suffered or provides the risk of being propelled into the endless cycle of anger, silence and revenge.
-Marshall Weber, from Eleven

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