by Á.R. Vázquez-Concepción
The exhibition addresses the origins of Tool’s investigation of war iconography through the exhibition of the artist’s ceramics, video work, graphic prints, ephemera, as well as works done in collaboration with photographer Ian Martin. Aiming to foster public conversation about the relationship between mainstream culture and military culture in the United States, Meditation on the Impacts of War invites public exchange on a subject which affects contemporary global society and which pervades modern culture. From toys and video games to multimillion dollar movie productions and advertising, the grim reality of war has been adopted for entertainment.
A Marine Veteran of the Gulf War, Tool describes his work as war awareness art —a form of artistic expression that, as the term suggests, makes people aware of the horrors of war, and which also speaks to the long history of artists that have survived and depicted the experience of warfare.
“When I returned from the 1991 Gulf War I was surprised to see a G.I. Joe version of myself, my gas mask and my war, in stores, ‘for ages 6 and up.’ I am compelled to make work that talks about the strange places where military and civilian cultures collude and collide… My intention when I make my work is to share it. I have made and given away more than 17,500 cups since 2001… I believe the cup is the appropriate scale to talk about war. The cups go into the world hand-to-hand, one story at a time… I hope conversations flourish between veterans and the people who are close to them.”
Deploying the medium of ceramic to represent the fragility of the human body and the way in which war becomes translated into civilian culture, Tool invites us to spend a moment thinking about the multiple levels on which war impacts a society —about war’s intended and unintended consequences on the social fabric.
A work included in Meditation on the Impacts of War is a video work titled 1.5 Second War Memorial (2005). The work is a series of clips of ceramic vessels made by Tool, which is shot through at intervals of one and a half seconds. That is precisely the amount of time it takes a bullet to enter a person’s body and end their life —a life that like Tool’s vessels, is a fragile container. For the work to become a specific war’s memorial one must follow an instruction —“pick a war, then pick the side you want to remember, then do the math, remembering that 1 life = 1.5 seconds.” For example, in the 1991 Gulf War there were 148 United States combat deaths (148 x 1.5 = 222 seconds) so a memorial for US deaths would last 3min42sec. In that same war there were over 30,000 Iraqis killed (30,000 x 1.5 = 45,000) so a memorial for Iraqi deaths would last 12hr30min. For Meditation on the Impacts of War the video will run during the gallery’s open hours throughout the month, serving as a universal memorial to the countless people killed in all wars of recent years.
Ehren Tool (b. 1970, United States) is a ceramic artist and Senior Laboratory Mechanician at the Ceramic Department at University of California, Berkeley, and Marine Veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. He received his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley and BFA from the University of Southern California and has exhibited his vessels at the Oakland Museum of California, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Center, the Bellevue Arts Museum, and The Clay Studio among others. His works have recently been acquired by The Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, in Washington D.C., the Centre National des Arts Plastiques Français, in Paris, France, and The Ceramics Research Center, at the Arizona State University Art Museum.
Meditation on the Impacts of War is curated by Teresa Goodman and Ralph Vázquez-Concepción
Also on view are prints of Ehren Tool’s vessels made through the Combat Paper Project in 2014
The Combat Paper Project is based in San Francisco, CA with affiliate paper mills in New Jersey, New York and Nevada. The project has traveled to Canada, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Kosovo providing workshops, exhibitions, performances and artists’ talks. Combat Paper is made possible through the collaborative effort of artists, veterans, volunteers, colleges and universities, art collectors, cultural foundations, art spaces, military hospitals and installations.
Through paper-making workshops, veterans use their uniforms worn in service to create works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper. Participants use the transformative process of paper-making to reclaim their uniforms as art and express their experiences with the military.
1.5 Second War Memorial (2005)
All photos by Cranium Corporation, 2016