Arts Award Blogs

Meg’s Reflections on the 9/11 Museum

PART B: Explore arts as an audience member

9/11 Memorial/Museum Exhibition

On September 11th, 2001, the world as we knew it completely changed when the tragic events of a horrifying terror attack on the World Trade Centre catapulted every human into a reality unknown. In February, whilst visiting New York, I spent a day at the 9/11 national museum and memorial that has been set up to remember the lives of the victims of that day. My visit started with a very sombre and moving look at the physical memorial itself which stood in the exact same spots that the twin towers used to be. The large area had been turned into two stunning water pools that featured the names of all the victims affected by 9/11. Each name carved delicately into the steel, stood out immensely, especially the names that had a white rose next to them which indicated the birthday of the fallen victim. The atmosphere surrounding this area was one of peace and tranquility and I think the exhibitors or creators of this memorial really thought about that when designing it. The symbol and sounds of water radiated a calm feeling for anyone spectating and this generally sets the tone for the rest of the museum experience.

As I made my way to the museum entrance, the first thing I remember noticing was the openness of the building. The large glass panels were purposely built so that you could get a view of the new One World Trade Centre building that replaced the old tower. As you get a glance of the spectacular building, the journey then follows a path going down towards the start of the museum. I felt as though it was a very symbolic path to follow as if I was heading down to the wreckage on the day. It made me feel like I was in the shoes of the people present on that day.

There were a variety of exhibits at the museum. Generally it began with a timeline of events and a lot of photographs and video footage of how the day unfolded. The narrative of the historic day were very clearly portrayed through maps and diagrams and it evoked a feeling of shock and a reminder of what exactly happened that day. It was certainly designed to capture your eye with the use of large photographs and moving images of people on the streets on 9/11. There was no background music as such to follow which was fitting as it was certainly more respectful to be silent whilst taking in everything around you.

Further into the experience, I was greeted with a very large blue coloured wall. The wall must’ve spanned a good few yards and was made out of 2,983 paper pieces(1 piece of paper for each victim of 9/11), each with a different shade of blue. On the wall, read a large quote that said ‘No day shall erase you from the memory of time’. Our tour guide for the day explained that the wall had been created by artist Spencer Finch and that the purpose of the blue wall was to denote the colour of the blue sky on that very September morning. The morning of September 11th for many was remembered as a stunningly beautiful day with no clouds in sight. The artistic quality of this piece was very poignant and it was something that stood out for all to see.

Other interesting parts of the museum included a large exhibit of all the artefacts that were found and kept from that day. Airplane seatbelts, radios belonging to the firemen, police uniforms, high heeled shoes of office workers left behind from the disaster site. So many intriquite items on display that were accompanied by stories of the heroes of 9/11. Around every corner was also an audio theatre. Each theatre followed a different theme or story and the purpose of it was so visitors like myself could sit and listen to the stories of that day by the people who were there themselves. Audio and subtitles were accompanied with moving images relating to the day and it was a very immersive experience to hear the stories. I think the exhibitors aim was to make you feel as if you were in a room having a conversation with that person yourself. Again, it followed that theme of feeling like you were in their shoes. It was a very personal moment that evoked a sombre and sad feeling.

The one thing that stood out the most to me about the 9/11 memorial and museum was how interactive it was. Although there was many a moment to just stand back and physically look at the wreckage and the damage from that day, the small interactive items throughout the whole exhibit was fascinating. I recall coming across an audio station where you could pick up a phone and all you could hear were hundreds and hundreds of repeated voicemails that were left for a certain person from that day. I stood there for 10-15 minutes just listening to the sheer volume of voicemails that were left just for one person. It really hit me hard about how many other people were affected by that day, let alone the individual in question. This was a very clever use of audio and it evoked a feeling in me of surprise and a reminder that not just 2,983 people were affected that day, but hundreds and thousands across the globe.

All in all, the 9/11 memorial and museum was a simply stunning experience. The layout of the museum was exquisite and everything had it’s own individual standout point. One of the hardest hitting rooms within the museum was a gallery room with individual pictures of each and every single victim of that day. In the middle of the picture gallery was a dark projector room with benches placed around the square shaped room. The floor beneath was a see through glass panel that had different mood lighting to it. I took a seat on one of the corner benches and sat there for 10-15 minute whilst I was presented with each victims name, face and story. Descriptive stories told me of their ages, what they did for a living, who they left behind and some individuals were accompanied by a short audio clip from a close family member telling us about their loved one. I felt almost intrusive on such a personal thing but it was fascinating to hear at the same time. I felt honoured that the family members would share such personal details and it certainly evoked a feeling of warmth when you got to hear of all the incredible people from that day.
I entered the 9/11 memorial feeling sad and unprepared for what was to be ahead but I left feeling positive and warm. To take that feeling away from what is such a sad event in the history books was incredible. It was nice to know that the victims of 9/11 and their families had such a poignant tribute left behind for them. It was done with such style and class and it is certainly a recommended visit when in New York.
Above review/article posted to my personal blog on 4/4/2017.
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My Eticket for the museum:

Liam’s Reflections on Artes Mundi 7

Part B: Explore arts as an audience member

Artes Mundi is an exhibition that highlights of several artists from a variety of different countries that showcase the a common ‘umbrella’ theme, with this year the theme being ‘The Human Condition’. Each of these artists are shortlisted by a panel of international curators: Elise Atangana, freelance curator based in Paris and Cameroon; Alistair Hudson, Director of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; and Marie Muracciole, Beirut Art Centre Director. Artes Mundi 7 featured a two part exhibition and was held in Cardiff National Museum and Cardiff Chapter Arts Centre between 21st October 2016 – 26th February 2017.

On 25th February 2017 we visited one half of the ‘Artes Mundi 7’ exhibition at Cardiff National Museum. Several themes were covered, these were: migrations, human movement and Geography, Politics and poverty inequality. These themes were reflective of the current social climate which, in my opinion, gives them a greater impact and helps the audience/viewer empathise and relate to the narrative more instensly.

Although there was no specific direction to the layout of the exhibition, it was somewhat confusing when trying to follow the narrative and themes. The pieces were separated into different rooms and felt somewhat disjointed as the themes did not flow naturally and effortlessly. Each piece was accompanied by a large board filled with descriptive text which would overview the piece, including themes, narrative and any background information on the artist. I felt that there was slightly too much information on the boards, which were often difficult to locate, making the content slightly difficult to read. This is a shame because a lot of the time the background information on the both the artist and the exhibits were essential to understanding the message portrayed.

In conclusion, the theme of Geography and Location was encompassed well within the exhibits and features not only in the work in a political sense, but also as a physical enhancement. For example, there were several pieces that were showcased in unusual and contemporary ways, such as Neïl Beloufa’s work ‘Monopoly’ which shows young children acting out corporate deals within a Monopoly board game setting, this was exhibited with a horizontal screen and two pairs of headphones that you could listen through, making it considerably more intimate and direct to the audience member.I also liked the use of dual screens in the final piece “Auto Da Fé (2016)’ by John Akomfrah. The use of the two channel video projection meant that the footage could be interpreted in several different ways, whether they were contrasting each other, complimenting each other or separated from each other within the narrative.
I have learnt from these pieces that it is crucial to push the boundaries in how we view art and media, by projecting an image on to a sculpture or having several images playing at once, it changes the dynamic of a piece and adds an additional layer to viewing it.

Harriet’s Reflection on Artes Mundi

Part B: Artes Mundi 7

Earlier this year, I explored the Artes Mundi 7 exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff. The exhibition, a collection of the shortlisted works of six international contemporary artists, was an intoxicating mix of media, stimuli, themes and messages.

As an ‘audience member,’ I was allowed to wander through the exhibits at my own pace and to engage with each work for as long as I desired – a crucial element in a collection that did not necessarily always make its message easy to decipher. This art was not easy to consume – it demanded active participation. I enjoyed the opportunity to choose which art I wanted to engage with and the lack of pressure to stay with a piece for any amount of time. Flexibility is a key part of enjoyment of an exhibition for me – it means if you don’t like something, you can easily move on and are not pressured to stay with something that doesn’t attract you on any level. Conversely, you can also spend as much time as you like with an exhibit that interests you and in such a challenging exhibition, there were many of these.

I enjoyed the challenge presented by some of the these works, along with the ambiguity and onus placed on me as a spectator to interpret the work in my own way. However, I felt that some of these works placed too much of an onus on the viewer and were simply inaccessible, as opposed to challenging. A fuller explanation that was easier to locate may have increased the power of some of these exhibits, but it is possible to argue that this is merely down to personal taste, as opposed to an artistic flaw. No artwork, let alone a whole exhibition, will please everyone. Art is as unique as each individual.

My favourite piece was, without question, Bedwyr Williams’ ‘Tyrrau Mawr’ – although it perhaps better to term it an ‘experience,’ rather than a piece. ‘Tyrrau Mawr’ takes up a whole room by itself, a large, separate, darkened space that invites the audience in with its mystery, without signposting anything – not even a title, much less a description (both of which are tucked away in a back corner of the darkness). One giant screen, very much like a cinema screen, takes up one wall. The rest of the room is empty, save a couple of giant pillows, on which the audience is invited to recline. On these pillows lie headphones for each individual to use. When you lie on these pillows and wear these headphones, you cannot see anyone else. Nor can you hear them. Your entire audio-visual awareness is taken up by the projection on the cinema screen and the accompanying, hypnotic monologue. On the screen before you rises a futuristic, monolithic, yet oddly sparse city, growing from the mountainside of Cader Idris.

The image is jarring in its blend of the familiar and unfamiliar – it is no city on Earth, yet a glance in one direction suggests the Barbican towers in London, another the Guggenheim in New York. The city is recognisable yet alien, real yet imagined. It is everywhere and nowhere. Over all this, the endless cycle of day and night is mirrored in the subtly yet constantly changing dark sky and echoed in the constant loop of the voiceover, narrating tiny, insignificant events happening simultaneously in the city. There are no epic events, no thread pulling these narratives together (bar the unifying space of the city), no sudden dramatic plot twists, no action blockbuster moment. It is the dull yet fascinating monotony of everyday life, instantly familiar. The listener may not have experienced the exact event, but it is certain that a similar lived experience lurks in their background. It is this similarity, this parallel between real and imagined lives that contributes to the hypnoticism of the audio, which in turn pulls the audience in and encourages them to stay. It’s almost as if the piece is promising to tell them secrets about their neighbours, or even themselves, if they only stay long enough to listen. As such, it invites not only a discussion on modern city living, on its disjointedness, constant pulse and relationship with the natural world into which it is torn, but also a quiet introspection of the self. I am not usually a fan of contemporary art. This was the first modern piece to command my attention for over an hour, and the first to stay with me for months after I had seen it.

This surely is the purpose of art – to encourage participation and to stimulate thought and discussion after the performance is finished on the issues, not to mention the feelings, raised by the piece. From Lamia Joreige’s guidance through the secrets of modern day Beirut, to Bedwyr Williams’ imagining of the future to John Akomfrah’s haunting portrayal of refugees past and present, the exhibition touches on society’s raw nerves of displacement and environmentalism, not so much begging to be heard, but screaming to be noticed. Life may imitate art but here, art mirrors life. And we may not always like what we see.

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