Thursday October 19, 2017 1:24:21 PM St. Paul, MN

Artistic License:
How this project came to be…

Where does the idea come from that it is important for an artist to engage in their society; to be part of their time?

How do artists and their art help us understand the present, how do they link us to its past?

These are some of the questions we ask and discuss ourselves.

We think that the arts are crucial for answering many of the problems facing our society, and for offering solutions.

Art can broaden community, can help envision the future, even can solve great needs, and perhaps art can avert serious catastrophe. Then throughout the ages, the arts have been the great chronicler of our life and times.

When we think of historic events, the memory of them comes foremost from the arts: the faces of our fellow citizens vividly etched in Walker Evans’ and Dorothy Lange’s photos of the Great Depression; the terror of aerial bombing across Picasso’s Guernica, the pathos of JFK’s assassination echoing throughout Andy Warhol’s Flash portfolio or the prints of Francisco Goya’s The Disasters of War. Of course this is not solely a province of the visual arts. In music, from Woody Guthrie, to Robert Johnson, to Duke Ellington, to Cole Porter; in literature, drama, dance and film, writers, poets, actors, dancers and directors all express the depth and dimension of the human soul.

When we were asked to make an outdoor sculpture for the garden of Jim Kempner Fine Art in New York City, a few years ago we turned to each other and said, “Why, not an ice sculpture?”

That seemed like a great idea. Something that would disappear; something that we could not control or determine exactly 100 percent. Formally we liked the idea of expanded form, creating a work that would test its viewers’ limits of perception, certainly from the point of view of time.

So as we thought about it, and being interested in monuments, we considered making a monument that disappeared. It reminded us of Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” the poet discovering the ruins of some great sculpture within the rubble buried in the sands of some far off desert.

What would this sculpture be? Thinking about it two years ago, then, on the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we began to conceptualize the idea of a sculpture in which one would see “democracy” actually disappear.

This had so many readings, with grave implications. You could see it as a monument about the disappearance of our civil liberties, or as a symbol of what may happen to human rights as vital resources, like water, necessary for our very survival grow scarce and vanish.

When we were asked by Provisions Library last fall to prepare an artwork around electoral issues for BrushFire, we immediately proposed to redo The State of Things in both convention cities.

We were hoping this work could be a way to galvanize attention to pressing issues facing our country - around civil rights, the constitution; it was thrilling to place such a work in the epicenter “ground zero” of the national and international media.

The sculpture installation in Denver and St Paul will be almost twice as large as the original one in New York at Jim Kempner Fine Art. The sculpture lasted slightly longer than 24 hours. In Denver and St Paul, like the canary in the coal mines exposed to hidden perils, we expect it to last less.

Among many things, for us, the sculpture dramatizes the perils facing Democracy after the attack on 9/11 and the disastrous impact the War on Terror has had on American democratic values and institutions. For Nora, “The sculpture is emblematic of our times – our democracy is in danger of wasting away at an imperceptible rate, changing from a solid to liquid state.”

For me, “What stands out – is that for the amount of time most people view art – one minute or less – the sculpture won’t seem to change, yet by day’s end, it will be gone - disappeared, like so much of what is happening to the values and institutions that make America a great country.”

The sculpture not only has its immediate presence, and disappearance, but for this manifestation of it we are adding a virtual dimension, which you are seeing and reading now through a blog called www.voices4democracy.org, where we and hopefully many others will chronicle the transformation and passage of the sculpture, through our feelings, and thoughts about democracy.