Though there's no sensible way to fathom the first anniversary of unfathomable events of September 11, we'll somehow all have to remember how and why things changed in America one year ago. For most, the day will carry with it a weight of reflection that's distanced from the buy-sell-or-trade mentality or the political soapboxes of our ongoing lives.
To help sort things out, many museums across the country will offer free admission on Wednesday, so that people might be able to peacefully examine vestiges of creative vitality and beauty left behind in a world gone jagged. In the private sector, LoDo's Robischon Gallery will go a step further by offering Solace, a group show featuring works by an entire troupe of gallery artists. While not every piece included was created in direct response to 9/11, each artist made his or her contribution with a sense of national reflection in mind. Here's how five of them did so.
"At first I didn't want to be in the show. I didn't know if I was capable of it," says Boulder artist Jerry Kunkel, whose digital oil print on canvas Lux Perpetuadepicts a candlelit reliquary that contains, among other elements, a photo of New York City before the World Trade Center was built. In the foreground are engineered snapshots of the WTC disaster, and in the background, the towers rise unscathed but tinted red. The purpose of the shrine, Kunkel notes, is to commemorate 9/11 on a daily, personal level. "If you did have a shrine, you might stop each day to pay attention to it. You might light a candle, and no other lights would be on in the house.... I tried to make it a place where someone looking at it could...go."
Creighton Michael's copper-wire-and-glue wall installation, GRID (1102), on the other hand, approaches the theme in more atmospheric terms: Michael, who lives an hour from Manhattan and stayed away from the disaster site until a visiting friend dragged him there in October, seems to view the horror of 9/11 with a mixture of intellectual detachment and involvement by proximity. "You walk a tight line; you don't want to profit off it," he explains. "My work is really about a meditation on a thought rather than the actual illustration of an idea." In contrast, Denver expatriate Ellen Sollod offers two hopeful pieces featuring bare tree branches cast in bronze and originally created in response to her father's dying. One includes a glass vial of dirt with growing seedlings. "We all have a responsibility to respond," Sollod says. "To me, mindless patriotism is not an appropriate response, nor is aggression in Iraq, or the policy on the environment, or the Bush forest policy. I love the quality of the word 'solace.' It's quiet, and that's an appropriate response." And New Mexico painter Sam Scott's 9/11 works offer solace on a lofty, spiritual plane. According to Scott, his emotive carmine-red painting, Rich Life, Run to the Roots Again, is about human transcendence through an "understanding of this terrible beauty that is love" -- something we certainly can all use more of these days.
But sculptor Tom Nussbaum, who lives twelve miles from New York, in Montclair, New Jersey, has no real answers just yet, not on any plane. He almost dismisses his tiny sketch, made off the cuff last year in the hours following the attack, as inconsequential. But his feelings about the events of a year ago perhaps fall the closest to home: By coincidence, Nussbaum paid a visit to the twin towers September 10, 2001, in conjunction with a Newark Airport art commission he'd applied for. "My personal feeling is that it just needs to sink in for a while," he says. "In our town, we lost seven men. That means seven families lost a father or husband. I think I will eventually be ready to address it on a conscious level, but it will come up in ways I'm not really planning on. In the long run, I'm just glad to be alive."
So are we all.