Installations… because I’ve seen so many of them, after a while they begin to repeat themselves, and thus it takes a lot for an artist’s installation to really impress me.
Having said that, if your’e in the Washington, DC area anytime until July 27, you just got to drop by the Katzen Museum of the American University and see the installation “Living Without Them” by Lilianne Milgrom/Saul Sosnowski on that gorgeous museum’s first floor.
Because the Paris-born Milgrom and I had exchanged words years ago about our experiences in living and being in the Middle East, she asked me to write some words about her installation for the museum’s brochure, and I did so after viewing her plans and a video about it.
It still didn’t prepare me well enough for the actual visual reception that my maind received when I saw it installed at the Katzen.
When I was in my late twenties, I had the honor to wear the uniform of a naval officer in the United States Navy, having worked my way up to a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) from a Seaman Recruit. One of my most memorable images from my naval career resonates with Lilianne Milgrom’s installation on a personal and visual note, and thus why I think that my voice, as a critic, writer, artist and curator, coupled with my own history as a young Navy officer in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 gives me a special set of eyes to interpret “Living Without Them.”
There is so much stuff in rubble; it all looks so big and solid on television, but until you get your hands on a chunk of cement or twisted steel, and pull, and pull, and pull, to try to move something out of the way, at the same time that you are listening to cries and screams from those trapped below, you become superhuman.
You are in shock, and rubble moves.
Milgrom knows this, and her installation shows it. And it is because Milgrom lived in the very volatile Middle East for many years, and like the poet Jose Marti wrote: “I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails.”
Milgrom lived in the paradoxical world of the Middle East, where bombings, bombs and their after effects were daily common life. And her psyche and her artistic persona were forever shaped by terrorism and a world where murderers are often heroes to some and demons to others.
Her knowledge shows in the acid perspicacity of her installation, which is coupled with the power of words from Prof. Sosnowski – at first they shock us with a solar plexus punch of destruction.
Then the floating porcelain pages, gently moving in the aftermath of an explosion deliver an anti-punch that is exponentially multiplied over that of the power of the explosion itself. It plants on the mind of the viewer the violence of the act, which maybe sought to kill ideas that went against the bomber’s belief.
“Ideas cannot be killed!” shouts Milgrom in this work – “you can kill people, you can kill poets, you can kill artists, you can kill women who refuse to hide their faces, but ideas will survive and even dance in the death wind of your violence, and in their dance they will spread and multiply.”
And they will use your terminal actions to ensure their infinity and their germination.