This exhibition brings together a small selection of photographs from Jonathan Hyman's vast documentation of U.S. vernacular 9/11 memorials. As a guest curator and fellow artist working on this topic, I decided to select works that elucidate the relationship between the iconic metal buildings and the human body. In this show, the World Trade Center (WTC) appears transfigured in murals on the surface of other buildings, reincarnated in assemblages of scraps and remains, and inscribed on the very skin of those who mourn and remember.
As a body of work, Hyman’s archive constitutes a complex process of artistic, social, and political mediation. Having earned an MFA in painting in addition to his photographic training, and counting artists like Leon Golub among his friends and mentors, Hyman is no stranger to the non-photographic media that appear framed within his pictures. His work bridges the medium of documentary photography with painting, sculpture, tattooing, and other media employed by hundreds of individuals who created the WTC memorials represented in their specific social contexts. Unlike much other work produced and compiled around 9/11/2001, Hyman’s archive enables a multi-layered dialogue about issues that go far beyond this specific subject, such as public and private memory, violence, corporate spectacle and vernacular aesthetics, art and social class, race and sexuality, patriotism and nationalism.
Many of the image producers involved in this archive’s complex assemblage do not consider themselves artists, but all are committed to the importance of remembering 9/11 through material representations that exceed language, writing, and the ubiquitous electronic media associated with the video loops of the crashing and smoking Towers. As we enter the second decade after the tragedy of 2001 and its military responses, we may also reestablish the value of material culture and memory. Having already disappeared as physical objects, most of the memorials documented by Hyman were also ignored by TV and other media of the digital age. How are we to always remember, if we let the few archives representing these vernacular memorials disappear along with them? When those honoring their dead with tattoos are buried, and every mural has been painted over, what buildings and bodies will house their memory? The WTC attacks will surely never be forgotten, but without archives such as Hyman’s our collective memory will be shaped exclusively by the monotony of state monuments, and the generalizations of mass media.
Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
May 9 – October 16, 2011
Special Collections Gallery
Duke University Libraries
Durham, North Carolina
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