Washington artist Micheline Klagsbrun first noticed the particular brilliance of the blue in the Sept. 11 sky that morning. Then she noticed bodies falling like fragments. Falling, she thought, like Icarus, the mythical figure who flew too close to the sun.
Can art help a nation heal? D.C. artists collaborate in the 9/11 Arts Project.
The artist knew she had to create art to help make sense of the tragedy. Inspired by Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and an earlier painting she had done of Icarus, she became obsessed with the idea of things falling from a clear blue sky.
In her studio in Northwest Washington, Klagsbrun picked up a luna moth she had found earlier. It was pale green and fragile. It, too, had fallen from the sky, she thought. She began painting a pale jade moth on a fragment of burned paper, burned like the ashes falling in the Sept. 11 sky. What emerged was a moth both beautiful and damaged — like the country, she said.
Ten years later, to commemorate Sept. 11, Klagsbrun has created another painting. The moth has evolved — just like the country — but with strange adaptations.
“The wings have a protective camouflage,” the artist says, pointing to the painting in her studio. “The eyes are on stalks. It is a paranoid adaptation. It has to do with surveillance, suspicion and terror. I want people to think about what have been the trade-offs: How we are surviving? What things we are ignoring? What is going on in the world?”
The painting of the hybrid insect will be displayed Sept. 11, during a reception and poetry reading in collaboration with Split This Rock at the Studio Gallery on R Street NW. To make sense of Sept. 11 ten years later, Klagsbrun and dozens of artists, performers and poets in the Washington area have collaborated in the 9/11 Arts Project, which explores healing through art. It asks: “What happens when you stop holding your breath?”
The 9/11 Arts Project, the brainchild of the Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts, acts as an umbrella organization uniting artists, galleries, nonprofit groups and social activists. A year of arts events is planned in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, Phillips Collection, Goethe-Institut, Carroll Square Gallery, Washington Printmakers Gallery and Pepco Edison Place Gallery. It will include literary events, concerts, poetry readings, art exhibits, facilitated dialogues, dance performances and film screenings. Each exhibit or performance will focus on themes of tolerance, war, trauma, security and the culture of fear.
“Artists are the observers of our culture,” says Brooke Seidelmann, project co-director. “We can neither simply forget nor find a cure; rather, we need to ignite new dialogues and explore greater avenues for connection and understanding.”
On Sept. 8, “Ten Years After 9/11” opens at Pepco Edison Place Gallery, near the National Portrait Gallery. It presents art that examines the human condition and the state of the world. “The project is powerful and palpable,” says co-curator Helen Frederick, an artist and professor in the School of Art at George Mason University.