Sculpting a memorial for 9/11
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., September 7, 2002) – When the airplanes struck the Twin Towers last September 11, sculptor Ann Jon was in the very beginning stages of a new work that quickly became a response to the attack.
The sculpture – four architectural “maquettes,” or small-scale models – kept the South Egremont artist busy for the better part of the last year as it kept changing in form. The models began as houses exploding and imploding, and wound up more as natural sanctuaries with shapes suggestive of mountain profiles.
By last month, when Jon put the finishing touches on the last of her “keeps” --which is what she came to call her fortress-like sanctuaries – she thought she was finished with September 11th for good.
As it turned out, that wasn’t to be the case.
“Images from 9/11 kept coming back to me,” said Jon, a native of Denmark who has lived in the Berkshires for about three decades. “I had after-images of broken glass from the towers. I kept thinking of fractured glass. I’ve been in a couple of car accidents, and the most frightening sound is the crack of the glass.
“For the keeps, I’d ended up going to the auto junkyard and buying hoods of old cars for the base material. At that time I was also noticing the tempered glass windows, which are fairly safe to work with. They break into non-sharp, rounded pieces.”
Jon brought a car windshield back to her studio and tried to crack it. At first, she dropped a two-pound hammer on it and nothing happened. Then, she did as the guy at the junkyard had told her, and just tapped the windshield with the hammer on its edge.
“It exploded,” she said. “It went from about two-by-three to four-by-eight in size. It had all the crackle lines going through it. It looked like it was really coming apart.
“Just as I was about to sweep it up I looked at the shape that had formed from the explosion, and it was a female figure. I haven’t worked figuratively for a decade -- I work more abstractly and architecturally. I arranged some of the pieces so it would read a little more literally. There were hundreds of pieces, so the challenge was how to get them off the floor and keep them all together in the same relationship.”
Jon wound up gluing them onto a backing piece, and also curved and bent the shape so it had more of a human form. In the end, hung diagonally on the wall, the piece looks like a human form falling, said Jon, “at the moment just before atomizing on contact with the ground.”
What Jon wound up capturing, she said, was “that moment before the
impact: A suspended moment of innocence and trust where you still believe
that there is order in the universe, and then chaos takes over, the adrenaline pumps, the sirens go off, the yellow ribbons and cement barriers separate us forever from our recent lives and brings us face to face with a reality we had heard about but never believed could be ours.”
It is the kind of moment that sculpture is uniquely equipped to capture, said Jon, who is the executive director of Sculpture Now, which sponsors the annual outdoor sculpture show at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge.
“Sculpture is a real object in space,” she said. “People can be in it, walk around it, sit on it, contribute to it. Sculpture has a certain physicality and reality that enables people to interact with it more easily than they can than with a two-dimensional image.”
It is precisely because of this that Jon feels that personal sculpture is the best way to create a memorial on the site of the Twin Towers. “All these memorial sites that people spontaneously set up -- they were all sculptural installations,” said Jon, who has been making sculpture for 35 years.
“The Teddy bears, the flowers, the names, the photos -- they were wonderful. Sculpture has often been created for purposes of memorials -- the more traditional politicians and war heroes, religious sculptures. It’s not a new idea.
For that reason, said Jon, she favors a permanent memorial incorporating these spontaneous, personal sculptures.
“I would like to see a large number of very small personal sanctuaries that people could add to, not bigger than five or six people at a time can go into and add their thoughts and images. Sort of like a catharsis. To get rid of your sadness and your negative thoughts and impressions and grief -- whatever feelings you’d come to the site with.
“I would hate to see something big and monumental done again. I really think it has to be a on a personal scale.”
While Jon isn’t permanently wedded to the idea of making art about 9/11, she feels that it was a paradigm-shifting event that will always influence what she does from here on.
“Hopefully at some point in time the wounds of 9/11 will heal for most of us,
and I would like to continue my development as an artist, looking at different
themes for my work,” she said.
“However in the larger context of chaos, 9/11 will always be a significant piece in the puzzle of life, and a catalyst for the eternal human question, why?”
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 9, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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