World Trade Centre, September 11, 2001 and the Calgary connection

Structural_Beam_from_World_Trade_Centre_NYC_Sept_11_2001_located_at_Military_Museums_Calgary (1024x683)

Tomorrow, (May 21) the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opens to the public.

As to be expected with a grand-opening in remembrance to a moment in time that has defined and will continue to leave a lasting imprint on our collective world-view at least for this generation, there has been increasing amount of coverage in various media outlets about this event and museum.

This of course reminded me that own Military Museums has an artefact from the World Trade Centre housed outside the front doors to the museum.

Before I get going, I must state right up front that there are two main opposing viewpoints surrounding the events that took place in New York City on the morning of Monday, September 11th, 2001. I choose not to speculate on something I know little, but I will summarize. 

  • There is the officially-sanctioned story that two airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Centre.
  • With an event of this magnitude, and because the human mind is highly adept and continually tries to make sense of chaos, there is at least one major conspiracy theory which is contrary to the accepted story.

As stated previously, I choose not to discuss any possibility of what happened that fateful day. Rather, I prefer to talk about the Calgary artefact itself.

In the time leading up to the installation, a friend of mine was a curator at The Military Museums on secondment from the University of Calgary. This was a time when we would cross paths often, as we were working on a curatorial project together, so I would hear about the progress of this artefact and how it ended up in Calgary.

I was far enough away that I would only hear bits and pieces periodically. I was definitely not involved in the minutiae involved in this project. However, I was definitely interested in the process and progress.

Somewhere along the way, someone involved at The Military Museums found out that some of the artefacts from the World Trade Centre attack were available for donation in appropriate museums or settings by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As I recall most of those were placed in the USA. Regardless of where they all ended up, it was a long process to get the work here. If I recall correctly it was probably at least a year, possibly a two or three year project as there was a number of logistical challenges along the way. From my perspective, this was not overly surprising.

In addition, there was a fundraising component of some sort that The Military Museums initiated leading up to the installation. From what I understand, this was for the design, engineering and feasibility studies and other related expenses to safely suspend the 15 foot, 1270 kilogram twisted steel structural beam.

This tribute was unveiled at its present location, on the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack on September 11, 2011.

Reading the New York Post this past weekend and my visit to the TMM this afternoon, it is thought-provoking to observe the differences between the two museums and how they have commoditised (or not commoditised) the 9/11 event.

The related issue of how museums survive and funding of them is a topic for another day – if I ever get around to it on this blog. It is a very complex issue with all sorts of tangled macro- and micro-political sentiments and theory involved. Quite frankly a blog might not be the right forum for it.

I realize that on a certain level we are comparing apples and oranges, and from pictures I have seen in the Globe and Mail this past weekend, the 9/11 Memorial will no doubt be a very interesting tribute to those who died that day.

This New York Post story which I mentioned above, talks about the 9/11 gift shop, although there is a link to more about the museum inside the body of the article. Here, in Calgary, the 9/11 artefact stands alone as a silent sentinel which allows the viewer to bring their own memories of that day without even having to enter the museum to encounter it.

On edit (2014 May 30).

Further to what is stated above, I read a recent article which was posted on the Huffington Post by Robert Klitzman, M.D. whose sister died in the World Trade Centre attack, that a number of these steel girders are incorporated into the 9/11 Museum. However, that is not the reason for the edit. In the article Klitzman proposes that the museum could:

inspire us not only to remember the deceased — which it does well — but to ponder these broader issues more, adding to its narrative of victims and heroes, by exploring these larger contexts and dilemmas, broadening our understanding, and moving us to consider far more fully these larger questions about the nature of belief, religion, tolerance, evil and hatred, and ways of perhaps preventing such atrocities in the future. The exhibits would not be able to cover these these issues exhaustively, but could provide a unique and important opportunity to have us reflect on these larger questions. Doing so, could potentially help prevent future such attacks and promote peace, even if in small ways.

Just some food for thought. The issues he raised might have broader applications, than just at the 9/11 Museum.

Art, garbage and food for thought


This morning (or yesterday if you read the date), I heard an interesting conversation on CBC Radio with Anna Maria Tremonti. The conversation was about public art and trying to make public art that people don’t hate.

That whole concept is rather curious in itself – art that no one hates.

I for one would think that anything that fits into that category is probably somewhat impossible to do.

If it comes close to being that safe, it probably is not challenging, is insipid, banal and devoid of any personality. Why would we want art like that?

The interview referenced above had interesting commentary from Councillor Drew Farrell relating to the Family of Man sculpture created by Mario Armengal which was made for the British Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal and is now located in Calgary, on the grounds formerly occupied by the Calgary Board of Education. It was relevant to the discussion as she also talked about the Blue Ring (Travelling Light) sculpture too and the controversies surrounding both pieces.

* * *

This whole concept of public art, is an area that I find increasingly more and more fascinating. There is a lot of interesting dialogue currently occurring around this whole topic. In fact, I would suggest that some of the more interesting dialogues at this time relating to the visual arts are happening in this sphere of public art – however it is defined.

With that in mind, one of the pieces that was discussed in the radio program was a work by a young Saskatoon-based artist Keeley Haftner.

Briefly, she installed a series of two shrink-wrapped bales of recyclable materials as part of a publically-funded, public art project. These bales were in turn “vandalized” (although I would say that is a bit of a strong description) by a Saskatoon resident and in turn were removed. This ,as expected resulted in a fair bit of controversy and coverage in the media. The commentary in this article is interesting, similar to reactions when Calgary installed the Blue Ring, except it did not take place during the middle of an election campaign, like it did in Calgary.

It created a dialogue however. Dialogue as it relates to art is almost always good. It is an important thing to undertake and engage in.

This whole concept of installing waste as an artwork in the public realm is a very interesting one.

Just the process of having a public body pay for, install and then remove a publically-situated artwork – all within its own jurisdiction in a matter of a somewhat short period of time, is in itself, rather fascinating. This whole process took seven months as explained here.

Personally I find the work rather intriguing. From the images I have seen I quite like the formal elements of the bales, as an artwork. How it would stand up over time is the great unknown. It is quite possible that factors such as degradation of materials, because of humidity, light, and wind, may potentially have meant that it was never intended to be a permanent installation.

If t was never meant to be completely permanent, this then makes part of the discussion – moot.

Regardless, I am glad that whoever sat on the selection committee and chose this work exercised a fair bit of bravery and courage in doing so.  I think it is an important discussion to have and the use of public art is a viable and legitimate way to introduce this discussion.

* * *

There are a lot of questions and discussion which should take place around the whole concept and issues relating to how we determine our relationship with garbage, recycling and a culture of visible and sometimes conspicuous consumption. This discussion has a lot of relevance to modern life and especially to those that live in an urban environment where we encounter and interact with refuse daily, no matter what our role in society may be.

There is a most interesting Q and A with the artist relating specifically to this work which can be read here. It is well worth the read.

The artist also has created a blog whereby she gives some background to this work. From what I understand, this blog and the artwork were meant to be supportive of each other. In that blog she not only talks about the work, but also the people whose livelihoods come from processing this same material she used to create the sculpture.  You can read it here.

All this and the links provided should give some food for thought.