End of War

We asked about a dozen artists, writers, performers, and designers to respond to the concept of The End of War


The End of War, By Tiffany Lee Brown

It's from a classical quote.1

It's the name of a book.
It's got a nice ring to it.

And it's an appealingly unspecific concept. Does it refer to the end of, say, the current U.S. invasion of Iraq? Does it mean the end of all current wars? Does it connote one big happy globalized culture? Does it imply the annihilation of all war, forever–and if that is the case, should it not rather invoke a calm slide into peace?

When I conceived of The End of War as a project for Plazm and exhibition, I was drawn to the fluidity of the phrase, to its openness and uncertainty. Could I, personally, even imagine what a war-free world might be like? If I presented the phrase "The End of War" to other artists, how would they interpret it? The only way to find out was to ask them.

We asked about a dozen artists, writers, performers, and designers to respond to the concept of The End of War. Some created new works specifically for the project, while others discovered that it resonated with aspects of their past or current practice. Our contributors sent work from around North America and the world, and we thank them deeply for participating.

1. Or in any case, a quote attributed to a classical philosopher, an attribution about which there is some controversy.


Daugerreotype of a Girl, By Lidia Yuknavitch

You must picture your image of Eastern Europe. 
In your mind's eye.
Whatever that image is. 
However it came to you.
Winter.
One winter night when she is not a child (was she ever a child?), Menas walks outside, her shoes against snow, her arms cradling a self, her back to a house not her house but housing her. It is a night after the blast that has atomized her family and any sense of an identity. Some years.

But that night has never left her...unrelenting bruise. Its blue-black image pearling in and out of memory.

Nor will it ever leave her body, the blast forever injuring her spine, so that all of her life she will carry pain like the story of histories unspoken, and since she will grow into a woman with intelligence and intuition and artistic integrity, she will almost never speak of it. She will transform unbearable pain into artistic production–exactly like how women take what turns out to be a life and live with it.

Nations move over the small backs of children, grinding their bones and hearts into the earth.

The white of the snow stretches out like the bones of a human hand.
You know, we act as if children are always under development, and thus unable to mourn or register the fact of an identity, having not quite arrived. It is not true. It may be more true that identity is as fully formed as the cosmos, as DNA, as geographic actuality in the first moments of life. The open mouth as gaping as a galaxy. The unconscious wail. The physical violence. The irrelevancy of time or space.

The moon's giant white eye.
The moon pulls her eyes, bathes her lightly, convinces her night is not any kind of ending, but rather the place of dreams and visions and beginnings. She is older than a child who would chase the moon, so when she decides to follow it, it is with the sure-footedness of the in-between girlhood of things.

The moon.
Like the iris of an eye, a circle within a circle. She moves forward deeper into the dark and open, away from the house not hers.

The snow becomes apparent now, and she wishes she had a coat. She wishes she had tied her shoes properly, worn socks. The moon, however, makes an entire setting for her motion, and in this way she feels...lit up.

She thinks of the moment of the blast, the singular fire lighting up the face of her father, her mother, first yellow, then orange and blue, then white, then nothing. Of course this is and isn't true. The moment was a flash of white, a sound closing hearing. It is only in memory that she has changed the pacing to slow motion, changed the colors to vivid hues electrifying her mind.

This does not frighten her. What used to be nightmares have transformed into color and light, composition and story, song and tune. It is with her now. Lifelong companion. Still life of a dead family.

She keeps following, or is she leading? She moves in the dark over the snow under the moon. She thinks of folktales and gypsies. Horses. She sees the moon's light and suddenly night turns to be something else. She sees a white field ahead of her–a great white field–stretched out like paper or canvas. She stops and her breath fogs in front of her, sweet articulation of wonder. Of desire. She is in love with the white spread before her.

Its purity and readiness. 
Its virginity. Like that of a girl.
A girl not her.
A girl not ravaged.
Its potential–like a waiting body.
Then she hears something not her and not the night and not the white expanse waiting before her. Her feet are cold and she can suddenly feel how numb her hands are, shoved in her armpits. She does not know what she hears at first. At first it seems as if it is the sound of hummingbirds' wings, but that is not possible. A fluttering whir, quiet as secrets, there and then gone.

Then she does know what she hears. She hears something so familiar it is foreign to her. She hears a wolf  caught in a trap. She looks down near a fence line she barely noticed was there...ha. Like the divisions between nations. There one minute, gone the next, loyalties and allies disintegrated into snow or rain or DNA. What a trick history, geography, being is.

She looks to the left–it is what she thought. It is a beautiful beyond beautiful wolf with its leg caught in a trap. She moves closer, now aware that she is freezing to death {a phrase "freezing to death" which is a bit comical in eastern Europe}. The wolf is smart.  It is almost finished. She thinks of releasing it only in the briefest
of thoughts and then abandons the thought.

The wolf is nearly free.
In its freedom it will lose a leg. 
It will be worth it.
The freedom will be won.
She holds perfectly still.
More still than a dead person.
Which she has seen, many times, a corpse in snow. 
Still life against white. Against all of humanity.
It takes nearly an hour, but the wolf finally frees herself.
She is suddenly sure it is a female. Females carry the endurance of all of humanity. The long wait waiting. The bearing of life. The bearing of death.

The wolf frees itself in a single glorious excruciating moment–it lets out a cry larger than an infant's.

It is then that she does something, well, thoughtless. Something so intuitive it could only be the mark of an artist. She goes to where the rust-orange and black metal of the trap sits holding its severed limb, she goes to where blood and animal labor have reddened and dirtied the pristine white of the snow–like the violence against a page or canvas–without thinking, she pulls down her pants, her underwear, she squats with primal force and pisses and pisses there where the crime happened.

Her eyes close.
Her mouth fills with spit.
It is, or more accurately, it will become, the most erotic moment of her life.
She will develop a need to piss when she comes.
It will drive away men.
Women.
It will attract men.
Women.
This is how our sexuality is formed–a frame at a time–against white, taboo, thoughtless, corporeal. Our psyches writing themselves against our very beings.

A wolf running three-legged against white into the savior of blackness, from which all creativity springs.

A girl healing herself even as healing appears impossible. Healing herself through sexual release. Through artistic production. Through the endless act of making.

She opens her eyes.
The piss smell and the blood smell and the youth smell of her skin mingle.
Salt of all being.
She licks her lips.
And then she sees something that is not exactly there–she sees the spine of the wolf–bone-white and reddened and furred and furious–she sees its very existence in the curl of the spine–animal and surreal and nonsensical. She sees it in a kind of retinal flash that happens before the wolf disappears into forest and night, blood red and bone white, the very means of human existence laid bare.

She does.
She sees the spine even as she cannot possibly see the spine.
It twitches and sparks and curls beyond physics.
Her heart collapses.
Her spine reverbs against her–shoots up through her consciousness
with such pain she doubles over and nearly vomits.
It runs.
The wolf with the visible spine. 
It runs three-legged.
Like all damaged people across the snow.
It leaves three-legged tracks lopsided and irrational but free.
It leaves a trail of unsyncopated blood peppering the expanse of white.
There is a mild whimper following the movement. It might be her or her.
Physical.
She thinks:  this is true.
She thinks:  this is a life.
She thinks:  I do not want to die, but my life will always be like this wounded 
animal lurching against the white.
This is what will motivate her to paint, to draw.  
This singular and perfect image.
This is what will motivate her to live–past being and nations and politics
and gender and family and belonging to the human community.
Making.


Letter Doulas, By Kristen Tsiatsios

At our neighborhood's Friday BeatWalk, we set up in front of an abandoned storefront, hang a clothesline, and steal electricity from the gallery next door. Our task is simple: ask passersby to dictate a letter to the future to us and post it for others to read. We explain to them that their letters will be hung on this clothesline at the artwalk tonight, but we'll also post them to real addresses, if they want.

The future we're writing to is a future without war. People are stumped.

The night starts out slowly. People want to think too much, get confused by the concept. Is this going to work? Sensing a need for coaching, I lightheartedly take on the role of "letter doula" to entice people. As I'm nearly nine months pregnant, my mind relates everything to labor, and I find the support we offer to our passersby similar to the support that a doula gives a laboring mother: quickly figure out what the situation needs and then make your offer. Nic's services to our participants are much more clear-cut: "Tell me what to type and I'll type it."

I hear Nic speaking Spanish to a woman. In her letter–to her daughters back in Mexico–she writes that one day she will be with them again. She begins to cry. I watch her standing next to us, revealing on a busy sidewalk her longing for family and connection, and I realize that what we had begun was not just another self-indulgent art action.

A man in grey-blue trousers speaks in thickly accented English. "Where send?" the man asked.

"Anywhere you want it to go."

"Africa?"

"Sure."

Nic takes his dictation but has trouble with the accent. The man speaks louder and repeats himself, trying to be understood. I look up and see tears streaming down his face and dropping off his chin. "I will be back," he says. "I will be back. I love you. I miss you."

The man nods his head in satisfaction; he is done. He wipes the tears from his face with the back of his hand and thanks Nic emphatically.

Now I understand the importance of our services. We are here to help people unlock their fears and hopes and wishes for the future and for the now. We are letter doulas.


Coffee, By Marvin Bell

The house smells of coffee, and I want some.
It's my coffee and I want it. I dreamt of coffee
and now I want it. I want the dream and the coffee
in the dream. It was my dream and my coffee.
Wait, no, it was his coffee in my dream. He wants
the coffee, and I want the coffee in my dream.
My god, it's my coffee, isn't it, and I want coffee,
that coffee, and that dream. The dream of coffee
is a wartime dream. This war is endless. I want
the war to end. I want to wake up and have it
be over. I want my coffee and my dream back.
It's his war and my coffee. Get out of my house,
Mr. President. You can get your own coffee.


Death Drive, By Magdalen Powers

Who was the first to point his finger and go "bang"?

Who was the first to do what after that? These questions vexed the peacemongers, threatened to disrupt. Someone finally decided that history was perhaps best written by the winners, and so such queries ceased, such curricula. Secret meetings were convened to pass down the legends of strife. Initiates at first would not believe. There was, allegedly, one bullet left. It was shown to them. (The smell, the recognition, the limbic jolt: some last remnant of fight or flight.)

It was simple, how the end of war finally came: All at once, it seemed, they'd gotten tired of the desert. All the recalls were recalled, recall? What this means is, everyone came home. The use of long-dead animals for fuel was outlawed, and the worship of extraterrestrial beings, since those had been the causes of most of the troubles. No parades were held to mark the change, or bunting-draped speeches, but at night a quiet singing was often heard, although the words could never be discerned.

In general, there was the usual bustling about: gardens, babies, that sort of thing. People breathed deeper, were less quick to anger–in natural ways, not just because it was no longer allowed.

Fighting was punished by exile. It was customary to sit, on summer evenings, on a hill not too near the stockade, to bring picnics and watch the flashes and glares–yellow, green, white. There were oohs, aahs, applause, but at last no more was heard from that distant land.

Were people happier? If asked, they'd shake their heads and smile, like they didn't understand the language. Really, they seemed fine, if slightly perplexed.

Sports were even bigger than before. Sex happened often. This could be seen as sublimation, but the people weren't cynics, so they just had a good time. There wasn't a lot on television anymore, anyway, so they had to find something constructive to do. A few generations managed this pretty well.

Finally, though, the people's religious instincts got the better of them–the need to believe in something bigger than themselves, even bigger than humanity as a whole. They had no God, of course, but they did have one prayer: "If this be a dream, yea, let us never wake." Like so many things, it seemed harmless enough. But, alas, there is only one eternal sleep. This was something for which they hadn't quite accounted. And eventually someone figured it out.

So who was the first to point his finger and go "bang?" And who was the first to do what after that?


The End of War, By Jamie McMurrie

In an effort to more overtly confuse and intertwine my existence and my artistic practice, I formally began a project in which I would engage in the lifelong "performance" of learning a foreign language. In an attempt to show that the concept of an artwork is infinitely more valuable than its documents or proof, every time I speak, hear, see, write, or think in Spanish the performance and its documentation are simultaneously being exhibited and the work never authentically exists in any other form.

As a major component of the first year of this effort, I travelled to Chile for one month to seek out an acquisition of the language in an immersive environment. I found a fascinating parallel between my ideas of art documentation, or art history, and political history–and how both are often propagated to the masses as absolute truths by a select few who, themselves, rarely experienced those actual moments. Using this parallel as fuel, I conducted a series of interviews in Spanish with different Chileans about the relationship between their country and the United States, particularly during the fall of Salvador Allende and the rise of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

What became clear was the wide variety of interpretations of this historical period from persons who experienced it firsthand, and the consistent lack of variety among the interpretations of those who did not. For many who lived it, this conflict continues now. For others, it never affected their lives day to day. For some, it took their fathers and sons. To others it gave power and prowess. Conflict exists only among those who subscribe to it as oppressors or as victims. The resolution of conflict in any form begins and ends within one's individual self; hopefully, it moves outward from there.


An Apology to the Vietnamese and Iraqis, By Marvin Bell

Fog and lamplight and a sleepless night suggest a past to sit up with, in an armchair with a book and a snack. A small boat putt-putts somewhere under the cliff, passing the fennel and ferns at waterside. I have screened out, like you, the far away. For me, there's a khaki sheen over Vietnam, and a sandstorm will erase Iraq before the owl lifts its dinner by the heel. That's the way we sleep now, screening out the gunboats in the fog, listening to the owl hunt farther and farther to find his kill. Our nights are lampblack.


Pardon, By Devora Neumark

architectural modifications with dialogic intentions

In 2002, I was invited by the Chicoutimi-based artists-run-center Le LOBE to create a live artwork and chose to locate what eventually was called For Giving, in a popular bowling alley. The center in which the bowling alley was located was built in the aftermath of the 1996 flooding in the Saguenay region of Quebec that killed 10 people, forced mass evacuations, and destroyed important cultural and social infrastructures including the previous community center.

After days of carefully observing local bowling practices, I began to appreciate just how appropriate it was to invite awareness about the act of forgiving with the pins alternately being struck down by the skill and luck of the bowlers' aim and force only to be reset by mechanical devices situated out of sight and behind the closed doors. I also began to realize how difficult it was to invite dialogue about forgiveness amongst people who were engrossed in their game and so acted on an idea I had of installing 6" vinyl self-adhesive letters spelling out the  word P A R D O N in the exact yellow of the trim on the ball-retrieval unit.

Prior to this intervention, one bowler said: « Le pardon c'est trop gros comme concept » when asked if she would share with me her thoughts about how giving and forgiving were related processes. This woman clearly  thought that forgiving was too large a concept to consider, perhaps especially while bowling. What happened after I made this slight modification was nothing short of a turnaround from the initial dismissal - and in some instances indifference - that greeted my eagerness to facilitate conversations about forgiveness. Bowlers began to appropriate the theme and a spontaneous open-mike session erupted with people vying for a turn to share their stories of exoneration and mercy while speaking amongst themselves and into the karaoke machine.

All these years later having been asked to consider the end of war, I identify with the woman who proclaimed a sense of overwhelm: The End of War is simply too big a concept I suspect because the architecture within which we go about our daily lives does not easily invite the conditions to enter into a complex analysis of war–how it destroys and also how it serves us. The one thing that I feel sure about is that the end of war is a notion that implores us to dialogue.

The vinyl letters were intended to remain temporarily, yet having recently visited Chicoutimi (five years after the actual intervention), I was disappointed to learn that the director of the bowling alley did not even remember the installation. The modest alteration made it possible for some individuals to play with forgiving for a short while.  Imagining architectural changes that might similarly invite conversation about the end of war calls for attentive listening even, and perhaps especially, in unlikely places. However if we are to participate in such a dialogue, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to sustain it beyond brief moments in time.

About This Story


  • Contributors: Tiffany Lee Brown, Mansi Shah, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kristen Tsiatsios, Nic Warmenhoven, Marvin Bell, Magdalen Powers, Jamie McMurry, Devora Neumark, Yoko Ono, Rebeca Mindez, Adam Eevens, Art Chantry, Alex Lilly, Sue Coe, David Tartakover
  • Published Online: Jan 13, 2012
  • Print Publication Date: Jul 2008