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Out Of Rubble: How Art Helps Us Recast 9/11 and Imagine a Peaceful World

On "10 Years And Counting," an all-inclusive, activist artist movement starting in September.

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Faced with the obliteration of human lives and habitats, the sympathetic imagination is a pendulum swinging wildly from rage and sorrow to compassion and confidence in our capacity to mend. Artists use images, actions, materials and processes that speak to decimation and disintegration and our struggle to resist or overcome it. In OUT OF RUBBLE, they represent 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. The chaos of war does not discriminate or differentiate one place from another, nor soldier from civilian. Its rubble bequeaths anonymity, eradicating the defining features of cultures and peoples. Some artists depict such erasure while others counter it by re-injecting or animating the human traces that distinguish time and place.

Reflecting on war from a country with a long history of conflict, the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska wrote: “Reality demands that we mention this: Life goes on.” Artists face this demand through gestures both tentative (given the scope of loss) and blatant (given the severity of impact). They mourn the havoc we wreak and atone the atrocities we commit. They create narratives bound up in the crises of truth, striving toward the impossible task of comprehending the incomprehensible, or exposing the lies that lead us to folly. Before and long after the rubble is cleared, they review, anticipate and sometimes lay ground for what needs to be rebuilt.

Laying this ground is a project beyond the scope of one book or even one hundred artists. It requires seeds from all sources and constant cultivation. One collective project that embraces this reality is Ten Years + Counting (10YAC) that grew out of a Blue Mountain Center focus residency on the Costs of War. Launched from the shore of Eagle Lake, its ripples yearn to become a tsunami. 10YAC is an online resource open to all who want to commemorate a decade of senseless war, promote a shift in our national priorities, divert resources from the machinery of death and destruction, redirect them toward social welfare and justice, and imagine a world with economic parity and peace. 10YAC encourages all of us to recognize that these goals are not impossibly utopian, but possible and realistic, and to act on their feasibility and necessity.

Visitors to the 10YAC site can view the work of artists committed to exposing the futility and folly of war and what it costs us in so many dimensions. They can read poems, learn lyrics, and find films. They can analyze economic statistics and count their own costs of war. There would be no debt ceiling to raise if we stopped funding war. Browse the site to discover tools and ideas for organizing events and spurring others to do the same. Register and share them with all. This online pooling of creative initiative is meant to spill offline with a momentum that floods every institution and moves every heart, hand and mind toward making anything but war.

Parts of this article were adapted from the introduction to OUT OF RUBBLE, published in 2011 by Charta Art Books, Milan and available now in Europe and in the USA in late October. 

OUT OF RUBBLE artists appearing as 10YAC featured artists include: Wafaa Bilal, Enrique Castrejon, Monica Haller, Andrew Ellis Johnson, Curtis Mann, Samina Mansuri, Simon Norfolk, elin o’Hara slavick, Susanne Slavick, and Elaine Spatz-Rabinowitz. Click here to see their work and more.

For more information on Ten Years + Counting:


1. Cathy Caruth, “Traumatic Awakenings” in Violence, Identity, and Self-Determination , ed. Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 208.

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