Projecting Peace and Art: Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Return to Dayton
In May 1983, the buildings of downtown Dayton became canvases for the projected images of nuclear missiles, watching eyes and grieving mothers. Created by artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, the temporary projections stimulated a dialogue on tragedy, humanity and the culture of war in contemporary society.
Thirty-one years later, Wodiczko returns to Dayton to present “Art and the Culture of War: Toward the Un-War Memorial” through the University of Dayton’s “Human Rights: A Global Challenge Speaker Series.” Comprised of a diverse range of accomplished individuals, the series is dedicated to initiating “purposeful and critical discussion” among the students and the community. “We selected Wodiczko largely because his work is powerfully visual, direct and engages people outside mainstream galleries and museums,” said Judith L. Huacuja, Chair of the Department of Visual Arts. “These politically charged works of art, which have been shown in over a dozen countries around the world, speak to issues of human rights, democracy, violence, alienation, and inhumanity.”
Wodiczko’s artistic career began in Poland in the 1960s. Each decade following has been marked with major accomplishments, making him a leading figure in contemporary art. His work has been exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions, including as the representative of Poland in the prestigious 2009 Venice Biennale and most recently at Finland’s Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art. His public projections have taken place in over eighty locations, including in Tijuana, Boston, Berlin, London, Warsaw and Hiroshima. He was awarded the Hiroshima Prize in 1998 and a Life Contribution Award from the Polish Ministry of Culture in 2009. When not traveling the world for presentations, projects and exhibitions, Wodiczko is a Professor in Residence of Art, Design and the Public Domain at Harvard University.
Back in 1983, Dayton’s City Beautiful Council was concluding six years of the Alternative Space Artist Residency Program, dedicated to integrating artistic practice into public spaces. As a resident artist, Wodiczko created three new artworks, utilizing the buildings of Old Courthouse, Memorial Hall and Sinclair Community College. “Krzysztof Wodiczko’s temporary slide projections have forever altered our perception of buildings we see everyday,” wrote Suzanne Mitolo, the Project Director, in the 1984 catalogue Quintessence. “His projections reinforce the importance art plays in our political society.”
Looking back on the experience, Wodiczko noted the pivotal importance the residency had on his future artwork, which often includes projections on to buildings and monuments. “What I remember the most is my projection on Dayton’s Memorial Hall, simply because it took a large number of normal Kodak projectors,” said Wodiczko. “It was the most complicated projection I had done at that time.” With over a dozen projectors and numerous slides altered to match the architectural structure, scale and details, the project was a pivotal point of recognizing the power of architecture in his projections.
“Memorial Hall was a very powerful building. The projection there was important in realizing what I could do with architecture,” said Wodiczko. “I complemented this with a technical statement about memorial halls not only in commemorating the suffering and wars, but the heroism and contributions of families.” Flanking the neo-classical columns were images of the suffering mother from Jacques-Louis David’s The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, with downward facing nuclear warheads on each pillar. “It also reinforced the idea of war, beliefs and the possibility of resisting,” said Wodiczko. “It’s a dialogue and a temporary work. I am not imposing my beliefs for more than one or two nights.”
Wodiczko continues to dissect the impact of war in his most recent work, including focusing on the faces of veterans and their stories. “High numbers of children in Iraq are suffering from PTSD, as are the soldiers returning home. Artists are implicated and can help,” said Wodiczko. “I hope when I speak about my projects, students will realize it is not necessary to join in my project, but pursue other projects that can make a difference.”
Huacuja echoes his point. “We believe students will see first hand the critical stance an artist can take against such conventions as aggression and the violence of war,” she said. “Most importantly, Wodiczko invites students, activists and educators to collaborate and to make places where philosophical and political engagement can develop.”
Through decades of examining war’s effect on humanity, Wodiczko’s perspective is timely in Dayton’s initiatives to support a non-war culture. “Now, in 2014, Dayton is known as the International City of Peace. The people of this city support numerous creative endeavors, such as the International Peace Prize, the International Screen Peace Film Festival and countless other initiatives exploring peace in society today,” said Huacuja. “We welcome all those working in so many ways to make Dayton a strong advocate for peace. “
Krzysztof Wodiczko will present “Art and the Culture of War: Toward the Un-War Memorial” on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 7 pm in the Kennedy Union Ballroom, 300 College Park, Dayton, 45469. More information about the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Speaker Series is at go.udayton.edu/speakerseries. You can learn more about the artwork of Krzysztof Wodiczko at www.galerielelong.com and www.art21.org.
This article was originally published in the Dayton City Paper, February 4, 2014.