Fallen

Jane Hammond, Fallen, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2007.

Jane Hammond, Fallen, the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2007

One day a war is declared, or maybe not even declared, just begun, with wave upon wave of flesh-ripping, child-melting, objective-winning devices. At some point the nation’s youth have to start picking their way through the gruesome debris. But why should I bother to craft this resumé? The violent scenarios and their details are easily available, and a thousand images that do the job even better are everybody’s property. So, let’s start again.

One day an artist embraces a metaphor. One day a painter turns away from her canvases. One day statistics and lovingly given names collide and separate and then settle softly on a cold bed that strangers briefly visit. Have any of these dead soldiers ever been here before, gazing at Hopper’s hushed interiors, Johns’s redundant flags, Mitchell’s shaken and stirred glimpses of crushed woods? Would they have suspected that next time it would be only their name, carefully recorded by an unrelated hand, that slipped into the building?

The essential falsity of monuments: bronze myths, engraved names standing in weakly for multifarious lives, immortal memory that evaporates within two generations. A simulacrum, but one whose resistance to decay shouts decay.

Jane Hammond, Fallen, detail, 2007-.

It’s autumn in America, the empire’s legions tossed into insatiable bonfires. Across the nation, families mourn their cancelled children. Somewhere an artist crafts feather-light memorials, no two alike, except in the politics of their vanishing.

Like leaves strewn across the grounds of a cemetery. Like a painting dashed to the floor. Like a massacre frozen in time and space but still far from over this December 1, 2007.