The Institute for Contemporary Art/ Boston (ICA) is currently showing artist Krzysztof Wodiczko‘s latest work, …OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project. This installation is comprised of light projection and sound and runs on a 7 minute loop – occupying three gallery walls. The work envelopes the viewer in darkness, which is only broken by the sequence of windows projected near the ceiling.
Sound is by far the most important element of the work as it transports the visitor to an unknown Iraqi interior and to an imagined instance of war’s devastation. Initially, innocuous sounds of daily life fill the room while noises from a booming market and the chants of an imam can be heard from outdoors. American Humvees then arrive outside and soldiers subsequently shout commands and communicate with base. Tensions are raised further as a dog is hit and automatic gunfire sounds. Exterior destruction is only partially visible as the window projections are broken by bullets and black smoke can be seen rising behind them. After the Humvees drive off, Iraqi women are heard crying and wailing at an increasing volume until the loop concludes.
OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project evokes the uncertainty and devastation of war while allowing for an internal and imaginative viewing experience. Content demands visual restraint in this work because the complexity and terror of war cannot be visually summarized in an adequate way. The use of limited visuals and overwhelming sound is arguably a more effective reflection of the opacity and confusion of the war in Iraq for those that have not experienced it firsthand. The visual spareness of the piece underscores our inability to fully understand the horrors that soldiers experience and subsequently internalize.
Wodiczko’s depiction of wartime Iraq is the result of consultation with Iraq War veterans, medics and refugees as well as from the study of audio and visual recordings of his contacts’ wartime experiences. It must be seen as an attempt to increase dialogue and acknowledgement for the human impact of current US wars, particularly on soldiers that have returned home. Wodiczko – born in the midst of World War II and also a former soldier in the Polish army – has taken keen interest in the impact of the United States’ current wars and the proliferation of the oft-isolated veteran figure. The artist has treated veterans prominently in recent work such as Veterans’ Flame (2009) on New York’s Governor’s Island and the Veteran Vehicle Project (2008). Wodiczko states in a recent Boston Globe article by Sebastian Smee that he hopes such work ‘provide[s] an opportunity for veterans to open up and to hear what is happening to them’.
Krzysztof Wodiczko is an established contemporary artist well known for his many large-scale outdoor light projections onto buildings and monuments that articulate a variety of social problems. In the artist’s own words, (quoted in Smee’s article) his work ‘is on the side of those that have less access to rights than others’. Such relevant and socially-engaged work led to his being awarded the Hiroshima Art Prize in 1999 and the College Art Association Award for Distinguished Body of Work in 2004.
Krzysztof Wodiczko currently lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City. Past works include Homeless Vehicle (1988-1989), the ICA/Boston-commissioned Bunker Hill Monument Projection (1998) and the Hiroshima Projection (1999). Wodiczko represented his native Poland at this summer’s 2009 Venice Biennale with Guests – a work that examined the existence of the economic migrant and non-citizen in Europe. Wodiczko is also the Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the head of the Interrogative Design Group.
…OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project was realized in part through the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and will remain at the ICA/Boston through 28 March 2010.