On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes. In a coordinated attack, these events forever changed the face of modern-day America. Artists, like all of us, struggled to comprehend the unfathomable destruction and loss of innocent life. They responded the way they knew best – through their art.
Eric Fischl; “Tumbling Woman, Study,” 2012, glass, 12 x 18 x 14 in.
Artist Eric Fischl‘s somewhat controversial homage to the 9/11 victims, was expressed in his “Tumbling Woman” sculpture series. The awkward, unnatural pose — the woman is on her back, her legs lifted and held together to her left side — is meant to evoke the bodies that leapt from the World Trade Center towers. It’s a powerful, striking, vulnerable visual -particularly in glass – even without knowing the reference. Fischl said he felt an urgent responsibility to address the terrorist attack through his work, for the public, to help people make sense of what had happened. That is what art does at its best, he said, adding he saw his sculpture as “a sincere gesture of expressing the pain and vulnerability. Those feelings were part of the tragedy.”
Michael Janis; “The Tower”, 2009, glass, glass powder imagery, steel, 19 x 37 in. (photo by Pete Duvall)
In a similar tribute theme is Michael Janis’ “The Tower” from his tarot series of glass panels. That piece was selected in 2009 to be part the Corning Museum of Glass‘ (CMOG) ‘New Glass Review’. Tina Oldknow, CMOG’s curator of modern glass from 2000-2014, and the senior curator of modern and contemporary glass from 2014 until her retirement in September 2015, wrote this commentary on the Janis artwork and how the submissions that year showed a narrative influence. She wrote:
“To introduce my narrative category…(t)he more literal representations included the stories told by Debora Coombs, Ian Mowbray, and especially Michael Janis. … On the other hand, a truly big and dangerous event is depicted in Janis’s “The Tower” Tarot Card. Anyone familiar with the tarot knows that the tower, the 16th card of the major arcana, does not bring glad tidings. I was impressed by Janis’s powerful, sad, and appropriate interpretation of this card as a literal reflection of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.”
On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are reminded that art can document a time and place forever, as it often represents an exploration of the human condition. It’s a memory device that tells a story that is multi-layered, complex and paradoxical. The stories told through art are vulnerable to interpretation and thus keep the moment alive.
Recalling the devastation that came that day is painful for many. Yet we must remember the past, or we deprive ourselves of its lessons for overcoming our present struggles and divisions.