Update: Following up on the LMCC conference, What Comes After, Caryn James has a review of a related exhibition, A Knock at the Door, and her own reflections on the politics of art in the aftermath of 9/11, in today’s NYTimes.
James points out that
while the "A Knock at the Door …" is clearly more political than its
organizers say – questioning the Patriot Act is inherently anti-Bush –
there is nothing apolitical surrounding the arts at ground zero
anymore, from victims’ family groups that are lobbying against the
International Freedom Center to Gov. George E. Pataki’s announcement in
June that he wants an "absolute guarantee" that art at the site will
not offend 9/11 families. Art in a straitjacket is no art at all. In
this politicized atmosphere, "A Knock at the Door …" lands like a
rejoinder to the governor, even though it was in the works before he
made that comment.
In the months (and years?) ahead, it will be too easy for discussions about art and memory to get hopelessly mired in, and limited to, the issue of who has the "right" or authority to speak in the wake of trauma, violence, human suffering and loss. Note the small print disclaimer on the LMCC website:
LMCC lost its World Trade Center home and the life of an artist on 9/11. We are very sensitive to the traumas of violence and terrorism. LMCC will not include any work of art in the "A Knock at the Door" exhibition that could in any way endanger the public. There will be no hazardous devices on display. The point of "A Knock at the Door" is to explore the relationships between artists and authority in the post 9/11 world, not to create risk or condone violence.
These are serious issues — not to be dismissed or ignored. But what appears to be missing in the current literature and in the conference proceedings is more attention to the ways art and literature can bring us into a more productive exploration of the experiences, feelings, and insights of others, not as self-indulgent immersion, but as a way of extending empathy while allowing for some measure of critical analysis that might lead to a deeper understanding of the causes and effects of violence.