Honest Abe A Mouthpiece For Veterans’ Post-war Testimony In Moving Public Art Project
Public art has the power to cause us to rethink our physical, social, cultural and political bonds, and can take many forms as Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus has recently taught us. In anticipation of Veterans Day, a major new temporary public art project, Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, by Krysztof Wodiczko, will launch at Union Square Park the evening of November 8. (The project is also timely as Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s biographical picture, Lincoln, opens in wide release on November 9.)
Wodiczko was born in Poland in 1943, and is an artist renowned for his public projections on architectural facades and monuments--a form of art making he has pioneered in order to give voice to such marginalized people as the homeless, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence and war veterans. Over the past four decades, he has realized more than 80 large-scale art installations around the world, from Austria, Holland, Germany and Poland to Israel, Japan, Australia, and Mexico. He lives and works in New York City, and is also a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he directs the Art, Design and Public Domain program.
In this instance the voices and images of recent veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as Vietnam veterans, will animate the historic bronze commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln that has stood silently in Union Square since 1870. The sculpture by Henry Kirke Brown (who also sculpted the George Washington at the park’s south plaza), was commissioned by the Union League Club, in the wake of the president’s assassination, as a lasting testimonial.
Wodiczko interviewed 30 veterans or their family members over the course of several months for Abraham Lincoln, and used 14 taped conversations about their war experiences and the toll of duty on their family life. It will be these points of views, presented in each person’s own words, voice, and gestures, that will be projected via sound and light onto the figure of Lincoln. The project is organized and sponsored by More Art, an eight-year-old organization devoted to bringing new and innovative works of art into public spaces in New York City.
“As our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, this commemorative statue, commissioned just a few years after the Civil War, again becomes a place for dialogue about war,” says Micaela Martegani, founding director of More Art. “Although these testimonies defy easy characterization, Wodiczko sees the parallels between the experiences of often estranged, neglected and traumatized US war veterans today and of those who survived the carnage of the Civil War, and the project draws a bold connection to Lincoln who, as president, presided over the nation’s bloodiest conflict, and who, as captain, (though not serving in combat) witnessed atrocities during the Black Hawk War. This striking work of contemporary art is certain to be a ‘happening,’ and will reinvigorate interest and give new meaning to this historical civic monument, causing New Yorkers to stop and reflect on our history and its consequences,” concludes Martegani.
The project is also conceived in acknowledgement of Union Square’s long tradition as a place of public assembly and expression dating to the time of the Civil War when thousands in Lincoln’s time descended upon on the square to show support for the Union cause, as part of a war that would end up taking the lives of over a half million Americans. More recently many mourners gathered at Union Square after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and to peacefully protest the commencement of the Iraq War in 2003.
Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection will be on view through December 9 each evening from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., and admission is free. The project is presented in collaboration with Parks’ Art in the Parks program, and the Union Square Partnership. A related panel at New York University, “War, Trauma and Public Art” was postponed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and may be rescheduled. More Art has also developed a middle school curriculum as a teaching aid. To learn more visit http://www.moreart.org/ or http://www.nycgovparks.org/art. We invite people visit the park, and to bear witness to this striking art endeavor, that causes us to reconsider the historic monument, and the person and values it embodies.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865