Art Prevails Through Hard Times

Courtesy of Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes.

On Wednesday, Oct. 22, Lecture Center 102 was bursting with students, faculty members and residents of New Paltz to see highly anticipated artist Alfredo Jaar.

Born in Chile, Jaar is an artist, filmmaker and architect who currently works and resides in New York City. According to SUNY New Paltz’s website, Jaar became a MacArthur Fellow in 2000. In 2006 he received Spain’s Premio Extremadura a la Creación and more than 50 monographs have been published about his work. At 5 p.m. he began his hour and a half long lecture where he presented many of his politically motivated pieces of art and discussed the underlying story behind said pieces.

At the commencement of his lecture, Jaar illuminated the motivations behind his artwork.

“How do we make art when the world is in such a state?” Jaar said; “Each project is an attempt to answer this question.”

He discussed the importance of communication and his interpretation. You must communicate with the audience, he said. “That is a key fundamental of my art.”

Jaar presented images and videos pertaining to his artwork. Giving students visuals added to the experiance and deeper understanding of his work.

The first piece that Jaar presented to his audience was titled “The Geometry of Conscience” and was completed in 2010.

Jaar was invited to create a memorial outside the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile to commemorate the lives lost during the 17 year long Pinochet military rule and dictatorship in Chile.

He wanted to purify and change the image of the Presidential Palace. He knew he could not compete with the museum – so he went underground. He constructed his memorial 20 feet away from the entrance.

Within the silent three minute exhibit, viewers are exposed to a double mirrored wall backed by LED lights and are decorated with metal silhouettes. The intensity of light in the wall goes from zero to 100 percent in 90 seconds. Half of the silhouettes are victims who have passed, and the remaining silhouettes are living Chileans.

“Here I wanted to mix both the living and the dead,” said Jaar.

He said he wanted to create a collective history of both the living and the dead and ensure that the images of silhouettes are in the brain and heart of people as they leave.

“The way he described it, the way he said specific names and paused, really choked me up,” said James Byrne a fourth-year, printmaking BFA.

In 2000, Jaar was invited to do an intervention on the fence between Mexico and the United States.

Jaar discussed the pressing issue of immigration in this country as an introduction to his project titled “The Cloud”.

“Immigration is a tragedy that is currently happening in this country,” he said.

“The Cloud,” made of 3,000 biodegradable balloons to satisfy ecologists concerns, was placed on the Mexican side of what is known as “The Valley of Death”. As stated by Jaar on his website, he created “The Cloud” as an ephemeral monument in the memory of those who lost their lives trying to cross the border.

This was an event that lasted 45 minutes where space and mourning was offered, music was performed, poems were read. Eventually the balloons were released.

“That day the wind shifted and the balloons went toward Mexico, not the sea,” said Jaar.

First-year fine arts major, Victoria Falco said that she liked this project because it was a representation of the people that passed away when they were trying to cross the border.

“I liked how the balloons represent each person and because of the wind it was like they were going back,” she said.

On March 11, 2011 at 14:26:23, Fukushima, a level nine earthquake struck Japan with an after effect that lasted six minutes with waves over 150 feet high that contaminated 300 tons of toxic water that is still present.

Jaar was invited to do an intervention here as well. When he toured the devastated land, he discovered that blackboards in schools were still intact.

He found this to be significant and calculated that children who passed away in Fukushima spent 15,000 hours of their lives looking at those blackboards. Jaar secured a dozen of these blackboards and displayed them in a museum exhibit titled “We shall bring forth new life” in 2013.

Displayed under dim lighting, the title of the exhibit is written in Japanese by children on the blackboard which appears every three minutes.

“That was really moving. I was looking at it and it’s just blackboards – so ominous and so depressing, I felt like you could feel the energy and death in it,” Byrne said. “Objects contain that residual energy and it was so powerful.”

The exhibit is dedicated to Sadako Kurihara, the writer of the poem “We shall bring forth new life” who gave birth to a baby girl during an atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

Jaar said that everything we do and say contains a conception of the world, a political message. By communicating through art, Jaar hopes to send meaningful messages of change to the world.