Out of Rubble: Susanne Slavick Mines the Wake of War-School of Art - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, January 9, 2012

Out of Rubble: Susanne Slavick Mines the Wake of War

Whether responding personally or collectively, how can artists recognize what has been destroyed and speak to how (or whether) it can be restored? Can their creative efforts redeem or act as empathic restitution? Can their efforts enact or embody recovery from ruin? OUT OF RUBBLE is a project that reacts to the wake of war - its realities and its representations.  


Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Art and former Head, Susanne Slavick, is the co-curator of "OUT OF RUBBLE", currently on view at SPACE gallery through January 29, 2012.

Slavick’s own work, as an artist and as one of the founders of 10 Years + Counting, led her to research and edit the accompanying book "OUT OF RUBBLE" (Charta, 2011), an anthology of art works by contemporary artists addressing the aftermath of current and past wars.

Featuring over 40 international artists and architects (from Diana Al-Hadid to Xu Zhen) who use images, actions, materials and processes that speak to decimation and disintegration and our struggle to resist or overcome, "OUT OF RUBBLE" represents the aftermath of war in specific places (Beirut, Berlin, Gaza, Hiroshima, Kabul, Karachi, Nagasaki, Najaf, Sarajevo, Tehran, Tokyo and more) as well as in invented or unidentifiable sites. As the USA has just marked ten years of war in Afghanistan, the longest war in this country’s history, "OUT OF RUBBLE" is all too timely.

Slavick provides us with a deeper look into the exhibition and artists' works with a selection of text from her accompanying book. We were particularly interested in those who had/have a connection with Pittsburgh - learn more about them here:

Wafaa Bilal (Spring 2012 Lecturer)

(pictured above, det.) The Ashes Series, 2009, archival inkjet print mounted on diebond, 38.5 x 50 inches

"Destruction is reconstructed, catalogued, invented and “made flesh” in works by Wafaa Bilal. Bilal resists surgical neutrality as a strategy; his own brother, Haj, was killed by a Predator drone attack in Al Kufa, Iraq, and his father died weeks later of grief. He photographs material that is literally visceral in "The Ashes Series" (2009).  For these archival inkjet prints, he fashions miniature sets based on media photographs of domestic interiors destroyed during the war in Iraq. They include a bombed mosque, a hospital room with a single bed and a room from Saddam Hussein’s palace with one ornate Louis XIV chair left standing amidst the former luxury.  These tiny constructed tableaux close the distance from their sources in media photographs with the residue of real flesh."

Samina Mansuri (MFA '09)

rubble-det1.jpg(det.) ASH Archive: Olaraaee, 2008, giclee print on Hahnemühle archival photo rag, 44" x 34.6" 

"Samina Mansuri also manufactures models and images of places that seem still smoldering. Adopting and transforming media strategies, she documents an invented devastation through physical and virtual constructions that hover between credibility and fantasy. Works like "Olaraaee" (2008) from the "ASH Archive" arise from media depictions of places (like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) that are frequently represented as shattered and pulverized to nothing but ash and rubble.  Mansuri assumes the aerial perspective that is so prevalent (and so detaching) in news media, but, like Bilal, resists that detachment.  Through her constructed fictional sites and altered histories, she creates “subjective mappings of an ambiguous location of trauma.” In doing so, she calls attention to our consumption of mediated representations of misery and their impact on individual and public memory."

Andrew Ellis Johnson (CMU Professor of Art)

rubble-det3.jpg(det.) Formal Graffiti: (Djim) Metal, 2011, archival color inkjet prints, 30 x 22.5 inches each

"Formal Graffiti" (2011) is a series of manipulated photographs that also speaks to these effects.  School during wartime is interrupted if not impossible; nevertheless, children learn lessons that devastation delivers. With this in mind, the artist photographed the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh as it was being torn down in 2010, creating and criticizing equivalences between an American hospital demolished for peaceful purposes and those destroyed by militaries abroad. US coalition forces have bombed Iraqi hospitals in Baghdad, Nasriya and Rutbah and the al Quds, al Fata and al Wafa hospitals in Gaza were shelled in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. The rubble in "Formal Graffiti" could be from almost anywhere.  Certain details, however, like the ripped pink insulation in Ha’ (ou Kha’ ou Djim) (2011), suggest a particular climate that needs it; it is now a useless barrier against discomfort, fleshy against grit and shard.  Decorative remnants of nursery wallpaper reveal function and clientele, attesting to the youth that the building once served and healed.  They stand in stark contrast to dangling chunks of cement and rebar and mounds of raw debris that echo lives crushed or hanging by a thread—elsewhere.

Lenka Clayton (Pittsburgh Artist, CMU Adjunct Professor of Art)

rubble-det2.jpg(det.) Repairing Lebanon, 2007, digitally altered photographs, 11.867" x 17.867" each

"While architects and consultants use rubble for reconstruction and resistance in the physical world, Lenka Clayton rebuilds it in a way that crosses from the actual to the imaginary.  In "Repairing Lebanon" (2007), she digitally alters five images of buildings damaged during the 2006 conflict with Israel.  A journalist working in Lebanon took the source images specifically for this project. Clayton asked for no information about the original buildings and had no idea how they had looked before bombardment. Close examination of the ruins within the photograph provided the only clues for envisioning their prior status and for visually repairing each edifice. All tones and textures were limited to the information available within the original image. Clayton is careful to retain the artifice and uncertainty of her repair. In comparing “before” and “after” images, the reconstituted structures can appear slightly askew with cutout qualities suggesting the scrims of temporary stage sets rather than architectural solidity.  Like Decolonizing Architecture, she responds to the uncertainty of war and its consequences.  Even with post-war recovery, things are not like they were before.  Despite the healing power of the human imagination, the fissures and frailty of our built environments and psyches are neither disguised nor erased. 

rubble_det4.jpgOsman Khan (2005-7 Visiting Professor of Art)

(det.) The destruction of the house of Abu al-Aish, 2011, installation, video still

Osman Khan captures the viewer standing under rubble. An imposing monitor hangs above viewers’ heads in the installation, "The destruction of the house of Abu al-Aish". The audience experiences both an actual physical threat (of a falling monitor) and a represented threat (displayed on the screen).   Generated by a software program, animated geometric fragments create a perpetual and virtual rain of debris, as if plummeting from a bombed roof or dark sky.  Rendered to lose any specificity, these fragments might be from any war.  By abstracting and aestheticizing the incident, Khan reminds us of mass media's treatment of such imagery, the horrors that play over again and again until the television sets are turned off and a new news cycle begins.

Susanne Slavick

In her own work, destruction and reconstruction, and death and rebirth permeate the imagery of the curator and author. Rebuilt bridges and trees of life abound in her "R&R(&R)" series (2006-2008) among other restorations of destroyed nature and infrastructure. The project converts the military abbreviation for “rest and relaxation” to words like “rue, regenerate and resurrect.” It borrows and builds images from the art and architecture of the invader and the invaded, often choosing details that metaphorically restore “a wholeness, whether prosaic or paradisiacal, that has been lost in the devastation depicted.”