Articles by

<Lauren Jackson>

12/08/10 4:02pm


There comes a point with every American tragedy—every global tragedy—when it becomes a footnote in history textbooks. It is romanticized, joked about at times, and dutifully recalled each year with increasing degrees of celebration and decreasing degrees of remembrance. Even now, this generation’s tragedies are heading down a similar path. On September 11, 2002, there were moments of silence, candle-lightings and vigils. This year, there were protests over a Muslim community center, a televised concert with Jay-Z, and growing demands to make the day a national holiday. As time passes and wounds scar over, it becomes easier to lose sight of why a particular day is a day to remember in the first place. Granted, this is not always a bad thing; it only becomes such when there are no more points of reference to turn to, nothing that lends a pang of sorrow and nostalgia—a piece of debris, a memory, or a photograph.

Richard Misrach’s Destroy This Memory is a photo essay, recently published by Aperture, that offers an understanding of Hurricane Katrina that no TV special, nor ceremony, nor heartfelt speech can match.

It shows plainly and in large format the devastation in New Orleans. There are no people in Misrach’s photographs—but humanity echoes through the graffitied words they left behind. Looking at what the victims of Hurricane Katrina had to say without placing them squarely in the frame, we see—really see—what is at the root of their emotions.

Anguish (“HELP” written on the roof of a dilapidated home), paranoia (“I AM HERE. I HAVE A GUN” scrawled in capital letters on a storefront), and even resigned humor (“SOLD TO LIBERTY MUTUAL AS IS” on a pickup truck surrounded by piles of rubble) emanate in these photographs in a way that exceeds a facial expression or gesture. Though it is easy to capture emotion by snapping a photograph of a person who lost everything, crying in front of her wrecked house, Misrach proceeds differently; he chooses to wait until she exits the frame to shoot. In doing so, he captures a graffitied echo of that emotion and turns tragedy from the suffering of one to the suffering of a thousand. The viewer experiences the words and the image in a personal way: the way she would react if she lost everything, and what she would look like, crying in front of her own wrecked house.

Destroy This Memory is not about Hurricane Katrina, not entirely. Misrach assures that not only by removing the faces of the hurricane’s victims, but including their voices. What they leave behind in scrawled messages on broken things is not an account of August 29, 2005. It is an account of human tragedy as a whole. Like toe tags on cadavers, these tagged messages tell us little about the people who were once living, but imply more about what living means: birth, death, and the ecstatic range of experience in between.

10/12/10 9:21am


“It’s not your problem. It’s my problem.”

These are the only words spoken by an Israeli soldier to peace activists in Rachel, a documentary about Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist crushed by a bulldozer operated by an Israeli soldier on the Gaza strip in 2003. These words ring throughout Simone Bitton’s film, running through Thursday at Anthology Film Archives. “It’s my problem,” says the state of Israel, represented by an Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman, the former head of military police investigation, an Israeli state medical examiner, and a representative former Israeli soldier who remains anonymous.

But the others—the peace activists who worked alongside Rachel with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Palestinian citizens of Rafah who knew Rachel, whose homes she protected from demolition at the hands of Israeli military—believe it is not just Israel’s problem.

Through extensive testimony including filmed interviews and read statements taken during the investigation of the “incident,” the world all Israeli military officials used to describe Rachel Corrie’s death, Bitton sculpts a tragedy from all angles, but doesn’t neglect to come to a stark conclusion herself. Bitton doesn’t seek sadness from her viewers, she seeks open-mouthed horror, evoking Kafka-esque sense of entrapment.with footage of the barren, half-destroyed Rafah landscape and home video footage she threads into the work—including profoundly disturbing images of a bulldozer antagonizing ISM protestors and several stills of Rachel’s body.

Rachel is not just about Israeli indifference to the death of Rachel Corrie. Despite its name, the film is about indifference to the plight of all innocents involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about being crushed beneath the weight of a dispassionate bureaucracy whose only goal is to relentlessly promote an agenda. The film does not inspire: it incites, even if the viewer doesn’t want it to. As anarchist and Israeli Yonatan Polak says near the end of the film, “It’s possible to resist without hope, but also without despair.”

10/08/10 2:13pm

The Castle Braid

  • Post-industrial!

Full gym. Recording studio. Digital multimedia lab. Free high-speed Internet.

Those are just some of the free amenities available at a new condo development called the Castle Braid. Described on its website as “a vision of a seamless interplay between the individual and the vibrant collective they’ve helped to create,” Castle Braid is one of many luxury buildings cropping up in Brooklyn as “live/work” spaces: apartments made for artists to function as both home and studio.

Aside from amenities, the building’s construction is, well, playful. Outside, Castle Braid’s brick façade is a mosaic of reds, yellows, and blues, with a lobby plated in glass at both entrances—one in the front leading into the building proper and one in the back leading into the private courtyard. Yes, a private courtyard. The two story lobby features art created by tenants, and an overhead walkway with several futuristic bubble chairs suspended from the ceiling.

The place, with all its shine and impeccable accessorizing, looks… rich. Most people would love to snatch up an apartment in such a nice development. Some might hesitate, however, when they find out that these luxurious condos are nestled in the heart of Bushwick.

Castle Braid cuts a rather absurd figure on Troutman Street. If it were anywhere else—Tribeca, the Lower East Side, hell, even Williamsburg—it wouldn’t be so out of place. But, because it is surrounded by standard Bushwick real estate on all sides (six family houses, converted townhouses and the like), its polished finish seems ostentatious, almost clownish.

Don’t get me wrong—I would love to live at Castle Braid. Like I said, it’s dressed to the nines. But at a solid $2,000 a month, that’s not happening any time soon.

When I paid Castle Braid a visit last Saturday for a Comedy Festival, there was a very clear sense of where I was going as soon as I walked onto the block. The lobby is clearly visible from the street at night because of the floor-to-ceiling windows and the bright lighting; inside, it was bustling with young, professional hipster types, while neighborhood families watched from their stoops.

As I walked inside, a security guard opened the door for me and smiled. In one corner, a makeshift bar advertised $2 PBRs. In the other, a handful of people sat chatting quietly. Directly in front of me was the show.

At worst, the comedians were harmless. At best, funny. Nothing in particular stuck in my mind except for the final comedian, Julian McCullough, who put in words what I had been thinking the entire night:

“When you’re walking here, there’s just dirt where sidewalk should be and then a $1,000,000 condo… Why didn’t you just build this in Haiti?”