Tag Archives: 9/11

9/11 + 10

Seek Justice, 2001

"Seek Justice" poster, 2001

Like nearly every American alive at the time, I remember vividly the moment I first heard about the attacks of 9/11 2001. It’s in no way a remarkable story, but I feel a compulsion nonetheless to bear witness to a day that, if it did not ‘change everything’ (as is too often said), did at least significantly alter the course of U.S. and world history.

It was breakfast time on a slow morning in California—I wasn’t due to teach that day, and my husband had left a short time before for his own teaching job. He called me from the car to say that he had heard on the radio that something very bad was going down in New York, some kind of an attack. I must have turned on the tv around 7:15 local time because the South Tower was already down and the Pentagon crash was being reported, and I was shortly to watch the North Tower collapse on live video. I essentially remained glued to the tv for the next three days (my classes were cancelled that week).

I had just moved to the west coast from New York two years earlier and still thought of myself as a transplanted New Yorker, so part of my horror was personal—did I know anyone in the towers or the planes? (I still have on my computer a copy of this survivor list, a relic of those early hours of uncertainty.) The rest was that naked shock which cannot quite be recovered now that we have been growing used to these images for ten years. Those first video clips of the planes flying into the towers—replayed over and over again—the tiny heads and waving arms at the windows, the sudden collapse of first one tower and then the other—for that one day only it had the rawness of pure nightmare.

The particular form of the catastrophe had an extra resonance for me as someone with aerophobia. All my life I have been plagued by dreams of planes crashing, planes burning, planes falling out of the sky. They are always big planes, and sometimes I am on them, and sometimes I am trying to get out from underneath. Once, in my early twenties, I was in an intercity bus that crashed at high speed, rolled over on the median and burst into flames. In the strange, slowed-down time of such events, I thought: I’m going to die now—and the main reason I thought this was that it was all going down almost exactly like some of my dreams. (By great good fortune, I suffered only minor injuries, but so potent was the experience that I still think of the years since that day as my second life.) Watching those planes fly into the World Trade Center in 2001 was also like watching one of my nightmares come true—only this time I wasn’t in it.

Something that looked like normal life resumed after awhile, but it didn’t take long before I was finding it hard to endure the revengeful, violent, jingoistic language that was springing up in the media and on the street as information solidified about Al Qaeda’s role in the attacks. It worried me that we might be about to be derailed as a nation by a kind of mob psychosis fueled by the relief of hatred. So in late September 2001, on impulse, I sat down and created the poster shown here. I won’t pretend it’s any more (or less) than a propaganda piece, but in its small way it was sadly prescient. Our justice has found Osama bin Laden and many of his operatives, but the cost has been high. As I read about the many 9/11 memorials and recall that day’s 3000 dead, I find myself thinking about those other dead: the tens of thousands of casualties—most of them civilian—from the two wars that stemmed directly from the events of 9/11. When justice comes at such a high price, can we still call it that?

For a free copy of this poster, download the file here (zipped JPEG, 750kb).

Posted in 2011 | Also tagged |


rainy gateway webcam

random webcam image

I’ve been in love with webcams practically since they were invented. The protoypical webcam, at Cambridge University, was aimed a coffeepot, setting the basic theme for all subsequent webcams: the melancholy of the banal. Tethered to one spot (or at least to a computer), located according to dictates of convenience rather than, say, aesthetics or drama, their images archived and then ignored, they epitomize the most reflexive qualities of the present information deluge.

Their complement is the cameraphone: free-roaming, relentlessly chasing drama, chaos, and rebellion, and demanding from us at least a passing moment of attention. I am interested in cameraphone images too, but I find them easy to assimilate to an already well-developed history of personal snapshots, travelogues, street photography, and photojournalism.

pet rabbit webcam

random webcam image

Webcam images are much more perplexing: they sit uneasily in the landscape and still life genres, asking the same question in a thousand shades of meaning: why this picture? why would anyone bother to capture this particular image? They require us to try to construct an explanation, often of a very labored kind; whereas the typical cameraphone image is culturally self-explanatory (of course they snapped that picture when they had the chance).

I am reminded of this line from Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters:

“The importance of nonsense hardly can be overstated. The more clearly we experience something as ‘nonsense’, the more clearly we are experiencing the boundaries of our own self-imposed cognitive structures.”

When I look at the images that issue from webcams, what I see is the boundary where our self-imposed mandate to Take Meaningful Pictures runs up against infinity.

Empire State Building webcam interface

Empire State Building webcam interface, looking south towards the 9/11 cleanup site in 2001

My first project using webcams was The Roman Forum Project 2003 at the Beall Center for Art + Technology in Irvine. I was in California on 9/11, having just moved there two years before from New York. So in the aftermath of that terrible day I felt like an exile, needing not just to follow the events there as all Americans did but to reconnect in some more direct sense to what I still thought of as my city. One day I went searching for webcam views of New York and stumbled on the fact that there are two user-controllable webcams at the top of the Empire State Building, one pointed south and one north. The south-facing camera could be aimed at the 9/11 clean-up site, and for many weeks I logged on regularly to check out what was happening and to collect screenshots. (The Empire State Building site archives its webcams, but even though my first visit was only a couple of weeks after 9/11, the archives from that day had either auto-expired or been removed. I wonder if those images are now stashed in some federal archive.)

"Repubocracy", 2003

still from "Repubocracy", 2003

I used these stills as a green-screen style backdrop to a video monologue segment of The Roman Forum Project entitled “Repubocracy” [play video] that is an intense spew covering the history of Euro-American use and abuse of the terms ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’. It begins:

“Junk now this Earth this noisy globe this spinning where no eyes are minute lump of congealed dust where I see from this vacuum I see Athens city of Athena city-state giver of democracy pure democracy by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person one man one vote women are not men slaves are not men the poor are not men not yet… [more]”

"Chronvacuum", 2009

still from "Chronovacuum", 2009

Following this, I did three projects involving webcams, all of which I’ve posted about elsewhere on this site:

Noxiterra in 2008, which I’ve posted about here;

Chronovacuum in 2009, which I’ve posted about here; and

World of World in 2009,  which I’ve posted about here.

For both Noxiterra and World of World I used webcams to generate new imagery rather than working with found images. I suspect I’m not done with webcams yet.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , , , , , |