2013 MFA Thesis Exhibition Series: Jose Garza

 5in./50 cal. Gun Mount onboard US Naval warship.

5in./50 cal. Gun Mount on board US Naval warship.

Somewhere near the Indian Ocean, March 2002, on board the USS Hue City CG66:

The gun blast brought me to my knees. My eyes watered and I felt nauseated. If I had been any closer there would have been a risk of serious bodily injury and harm. Safety was always on our minds. They drilled it into us. Within that brief moment of inattention, I realized that all the technology and weaponry that surrounded us in the name of national defense and security was aimed at faces I could not see; faces referred to as civilian or hostile, friendly or foe. Sometimes they were just numbers or coordinates on a screen. I could never imagine the actual damage that salvo caused when it hit its target. I never really thought about it. There was never a reason to do so.

I believed I was brought here out of a sense civil duty, to find some direction as a young adult, to enter a career and feel a sense of financial security. This is what I was told. What had really brought me here was the romantic ideal of military service, which I accessed through film, television, magazines, books, and etc. The powerful human emotions and qualities war evoked- bravery, honor, camaraderie, sacrifice, leadership, commitment, hatred and fear entranced me. After feeling the powerfully percussive discharge of the gun on my chest, I further became fascinated and repulsed by this sentiment. My experience changed from one mediated through images and language to a direct corporeal one.

Scrap metal collection station, downtown St. Louis during WWII.

Scrap metal collection station, downtown St. Louis during WWII.

 A Study for a Monument (2013) is modeled after a scrap metal collecting station located in downtown St. Louis during World War II. It was a central point of collecting metals during salvage drives and one of the many ways citizens could contribute to the war effort. Scrap metal would be used to make weapons, ammunition, gas masks and explosives.

This is not an exact replica of that station. All dimensions were estimated from a photograph in relation to other objects and people present in it. Every single material was purchased from the same home improvement retailer. It stands about fourteen feet high with a six by six foot wood and chicken wire fence built around it. The primary building material is 2 by 4 inch #2 prime pressure-treated lumber, which has been left unpainted. There is an eight-foot ladder running up and down on one of the sides made of fluorescent light bulbs and fixtures. At the peak sits a flagpole holding an American flag. A small fan is hidden beneath the flag gives the appearance that it is slightly blowing in a wind.

 A Study for a Monument (2013), finalizing construction.

A Study for a Monument (2013), finalizing construction.

Conceptually, this is an opportunity to reread the idea of monuments dedicated to war. These objects reinforce notions that peace is created and maintained through acts of war and public sacrifice. They are perpetuated by ideological stereotypes and clichés. In A Study for a Monument, the bare wood structure stands in for an armature of the perceptions of war and its function. It appears structurally sound but is not meant to sustain any significant load bearing. The fluorescent light ladder is a means to represent qualities war evokes- bravery, honor, camaraderie, sacrifice, leadership, and commitment. All seductive elements feeding into romanticized notions of war. It can’t be climbed and serves only aesthetically but not functionally. The flag is not only a direct object standing in for a nation but also formulates an implication to a call to arms. It lightly waves in the indoor exhibition space. These commonplace objects are transformed into tools appealing to war mongering and propaganda but here this is not their purpose. Instead, they intend to disrupt the contribution to these ideas. It is all artifice. They are props much like the cultural trappings insinuating that war is inherent in our nature and that humanity is incurably warlike.

By José Garza (May 31, 2013)

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