When you are trained in both art/media/cultural studies and criminology, looking at the world can be a very dizzying experience. Acts of violence and violations of basic human rights occur simultaneously with efforts by artists to create work that makes sense of those injustices. I often wake up wondering whether it will be a day for appreciating the vision of those who struggle to make sense or observing the cruelty of those who cause pain and destroy lives.
Last summer, in the aftermath of my work in Norway on the impact of the horrendous 2011 massacre on Utoya Island, part of an invited group of experts in sudden mass violence, I was contacted by curators at the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh. They had heard about my class Disease and Disaster in Media and Culture, which has both a regular undergraduate version and an occasional advanced graduate seminar, that examines efforts from antiquity to post-modernity to create art, media and culture that responds to violence and catastrophe.
The first result of discussions with the extraordinary curators and staff members at the society was an invitation to write an essay for the catalog of the 2013 – 2014 exhibition, ENOUGH VIOLENCE. The exhibition, which ends next month, features works by 14 contemporary artists and craftspeople from around the world whose work investigates “the impact violence has on our lives and the role the arts can play in restoring peace and security.” Part of what I grappled with in my catalog essay — “Utoya Reckoning: On Craft and Culture as a Response to Catastrophe” (available here) — is why and how the impulse to create, to make commemorative objects, to memorialize, is so powerful in the aftermath of the most violent and traumatic catastrophic events.
After the exhibition was underway, I was invited to the Society to give a more extended talk on Craft, Culture, and Catastrophe. As a part of the visit, I was interviewed on Pittsburgh’s NPR-affiliate WESA-FM, and that discussion can be heard by clicking on this image.
A large part of the excitement of this project, of meeting so many artists and scholars who examine cultural responses to catastrophe, has been the knowledge that my participation was encouraged and inspired by our MFA/IMA community of faculty and students, a rich incubator for creative connections using diverse media, technologies, forms, and content.
Claudia Alvarez. Pero Pendiente. 2013. Ceramic installation. Dimensions vary. 31″ x 120″ x 180″.
Michelle Erickson. Globular Chintz Teapot. 2006. Cream-ware with enamel and ceramic transfer print. 12″ h
Stephen Saracino. Columbine Survival Bracelet. 2004. Sterling Silver. Mokume-gane. 8″ x 6″ x 3″.
Julie Sirek. A Family Matter. 2010. Handmade gampi and mixed media installation. dimensions vary. 96″ x 96″ x 6″.
Keith W. Smith. Incarceration. 1999. Terra-cotta, matt glaze, iron. 34″ x 27″ x 27″.
Beth Barron. Implosion 1. 2009. Found band aids, red thread, hand stitched. 52″ diameter x 1/8″.
Murrah Federal Building. Image courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
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