This past weekend the More Art team gathered with artist Krzysztof Wodiczko at Harvestworks Studios in SoHo to film and record interviews with veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars. Once completed, these interviews will comprise one of the most significant steps in our preparation for the Abraham Lincoln: War Veterans Project.
Our objective for the day was to make our participants feel like they were in a safe space in which they could freely share their stories. This proved a bit difficult, as lights, cameras, and a crew of seven can easily make a small recording studio feel crowded. We set up two rooms for the veterans to ease them into the recording process, the first a large waiting room and the second a ‘confessional’ where they could get to know Krzysztof. Harvestworks, an artist-run nonprofit space, was the perfect companion to help us make this project possible.
I had been so preoccupied with organizing the details of the shoot, tracking down the right recording studio, and making sure we had enough participating veterans, that the potential gravity of the veterans’ testimonials had somehow been pushed to the back of my mind. The veterans arrived one by one, each with a sunny attitude, and chatted with us in the waiting room about basic conversational topics, reinforcing my early perception of them as another member of our crew.
Krzysztof came to greet the participants in the waiting room, led them into a small room that we called “the confessional” and closed the door while the crew checked on technical details and verified that everything would go according to plan. His arrival signaled a shift in each participants’ role, as attention was placed solely on them and their power to express memories, descriptions, and reactions to events of war.
Once ready, Krzysztof brought the veterans into the recording room, where they were asked to mask their bodies by putting on a black cape, while leaving their hands and faces visible. We then placed two small pieces of red duct tape on static parts of their face, the tip of the nose and the top of the forehead, creating points of reference for video edition. Once all the bells and whistles were in place, the camera started rolling, and Krzysztof asked the participants to begin their stories however they felt comfortable.
Each participant took Krzysztof’s involvement differently. Some immediately launched into their story without prompt, as if it had been told a million times before, but were invigorated, knowing it was to be shared with an audience larger than just the few in the room. Others took more time to open up. And in these cases, the silence in between thoughts was heavily charged and haunted, as the emotional turbulence was almost tangible. Each had a unique way of looking at war and its consequences, consequences for which they have become responsible.
The testimonials left quite an impression upon all present. We couldn’t believe that the friendly personalities we had met less than an hour ago had such dark memories swimming around in their heads, and such strength to express them. The sound engineer left the room white as a sheet, quipping that yesterday he had recorded a jazz Christmas album.
It was an exhausting experience to actively listen to the veterans, and I can only attempt to imagine the feelings that must have been swirling in the veterans’ thoughts. They genuinely seemed thankful to have had an open forum to express themselves and to have someone to listen to their stories. We are all curious and excited to see how these testimonials will transform once edited and they become a work of art after having witnessed the powerful exchanges this weekend.