Mission Accomplished at ATHICA

ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art presents Mission Accomplished, an exhibit of three artists’ projects, which focus on war’s effects on society. The exhibit is timed to coincide with President Obama’s promised date of withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq and is titled to allude ironically to President Bush II’s infamously premature announcement.

With thousands of casualties since the initial invasion of Iraq eight years ago, with a total of 170,000 American troops in Iraq at the war’s peak, with hundreds of billions of dollars spent amid overwhelming controversy, the war in Iraq has affected people everywhere.

Featured artist Cecelia Kane’s Hand to Hand project chronicles the events of the Iraq war since its inception in March 2003, when she began painting the day’s headlines on stuffed white gloves, one for every day the war continued. She describes each glove as a “’rosary bead’ in this on-going, meditation of war witnessing.” Some express our collective horror at the violence and some depict positive outcomes such as an AP photo of a Muslim woman joyously displaying an inked fingertip after voting in a democratic election: all reflect the role of journalism in mediating our reception of the historical events.

In January 2006 the artist decided to expand the project to include other artists–she invited each artist to take on one week of Iraq War news and depict each day’s news—good or bad—on a glove or hand-related artwork. 201 artists—many well-known Atlanta artists–will have contributed to the project by the end of the last week of August when Kane will end the vast project and mount the final weeks in the gallery before the exhibit closing. In its entirety, Hand to Hand will be large enough to fill every wall of ATHICA seven rows deep!

The artists hail from all across America and nine countries including a U.S. soldier stationed in Baghdad, another in the Gulf of Hormuz and two refugee Iraqi girls. There will be approximately 2,000 artworks ranging in media from a few video and sound works, to glass, photography, painted, printed, embroidered and sculptural hands. Written statements accompany the works, many of which commemorate the soldiers. A 300 page color catalog is being created to accompany the project’s penultimate showing, the printing of which is being funded by grants from The Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and Idea Capital. As well as having shown a portion of the project at ATHICA in 2006 in the America on the Brink exhibition, Hand to Hand has exhibited at 13 venues from coast to coast since its inception.

Amply filling out the middle space of the gallery will be James Buonaccorsi’s Don’t Forget to Learn, Don’t Learn to Forget, a colossal 14-foot tall, 9-foot wide by 30’ long steel and cast iron sculpture. This beloved local, longtime sculpture professor at the Lamar Dodd School of Art has focused his entire career on meticulously crafted works relating to war; this work is his largest to date and will debut at ATHICA after more than four years in the making. It depicts a furnace filled with metal skulls resting at the end of a set of train tracks.

Riding the tracks is a metal cart containing the horrifying results of the furnace’s activity. The skulls piled high in the cart are made even more sinister by the three-digit number branded on each forehead alluding to the cold statistics of warfare. Each furnace door has pithy phrases cast on them and the whole furnace topped by five ominous chimneys. Buonaccorsi‘s title alludes to the repetitive motion of history and man’s inability to learn from his mistakes. Buonaccorsi last showed at ATHICA in its second exhibit in 2002, Artists Respond to War, which was mounted when the US invaded Afghanistan.

Blaine Whisenhunt, also a sculpture professor, hails from Springfield, Montana where he teaches at Drury University. His audience-participatory work, Weapon of Mass Compassion is comprised of a paper shredder and a stack of over a 100 Xerox copies of images of civilian Iraqi’s, some war victims, culled from online sources, which he invites viewers to shred throughout the exhibit’s duration Whisenhunt explains that when viewers engage in shredding the images “they become complicit metaphorically in the atrocities taking place in the imagery.” This act provokes emotions of sympathy, sorrow, guilt, and accountability. However, when no one is in the act of shredding a large plume of shredded images will trail behind the shredder, which will be almost 12’ long once all the images have been shredded. At rest, the work reminds the viewer of the consequences of war’s dehumanization and the number of civilian lives lost during battle. Whisenhunt has shown other works previously at ATHICA in the 2006 America on the Brink exhibition.

The exhibit and a series of affiliated events will provide a stimulating and informative space for Northeast Georgians to reflect on the long Iraq War and the impact of war in general.

Affiliated Events

  • Thursday, September 2
    7–8 p.m.
    Artists & Curators Walk n’ Talk
  • Date TBA
    Front Lines: Readings of original works about war and life
    A VOX Reading Series Event with Keynote Reader Dr. Chris Cuomo
    Philosopher & Feminist, UGA Women’s Studies Professor, author of The Philosopher Queen
  • Sunday, September 26
    3:30 p.m.
    Closing Day: Artists Panel Discussion and other events TBA

ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art
160 Tracy Street, Unit 4
Athens, GA 30601

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