Reading Room II - Remembering Vietnam, Again
Eyelevel Gallery Halifax, May 19 - June 5 1987*
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognise it the way it was (Ranke) but to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at the moment of danger.
Walter Benjamin Theses on the Philosophy of History
Like the first Reading Room, Reading Room II: Remembering, Vietnam again' contained several sections and sectional components: phototexts, reading materials, an audio/visual installation, as well as video and discussion [performance] sessions.
The first section, an audio-visual installation consisted of 71 rear projected macro - photographed images of this first television war in history - Vietnam - appropriated from the television documentary The 10.000 Day War (CBS). The images were macro-photographed to reveal the distancing nature of the television medium itself thus reinforcing the eidetic condition of the media image(s) from a specific reality event in real time. The images were chosen for their significance as mnemonic ciphers to the subsequent historical reconstruction of the war, underlining Susan Sontag's notion that whole wars could be projected in a small number of static images. The projected images (memories) were accompanied by a 3 minute loop tape of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots - a middle aged women being bundled into a police wagon singing in a halting but still strong voice the quintessential 1960's protest song "we shall overcome.... we shall overcome, some day" accompanied by the background chants of "the whole world is watching... the whole world is watching!"
Section 2 consisted of a reading area near the rear wall of the gallery. A clear plexiglass shelf attached to the rear wall contained several issues of the newly released comic book the Nam. Chairs were provided near the shelf for comic book readers.
Section 3 consisted of several photo texts, and an enlargement of the advertisement for the Oliver Stone Academy award winning film Platoon, each framed behind hinged `windows'which could be closed to block off the images. An enlarged text from a Platoon advertisment which contained the line "The first casuality of war is the truth", was altered to read "The first casualty of the representation of war is the truth"
The video section 4 of Reading Room II played a detourned version of Platoon from which all of the images had been removed and substituted with a critical text commenting upon the film's genretype and narrative structure. The film's audio track was recorded at the first public screening of the film in Halifax which was well attended by the military, and thus contained audience responses to the screen action. The excision, or in this case denial, of the images elevated the audio track and substitute texts to the primary level of signification.
Finally, a `key work' to Reading Room II was provided in the form of an image of the 345 triangle area theorem of Pythogoras with three images in the squares constructed from drawing squares from each side of the triangle; a Time magazine cover with an image of the three heroes of Platoon and the caption "Vietnam as it Was", a Ronald Haeberle image from the Mi Lai Massacre, and a map of Nicaragua. Above and below these images was printed the Benjamin quote cited above from his "Theses on the Philosophy of History".
*The work "Remembering Vietnam" 1985 which was produced for the exhibition "The Art of Memory/ The Loss of History curated by the late William Olander for the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, preceded the exhibition of Reading Room II which was first shown in Halifax at the Eyelevel gallery, then at Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand June 23 - July 24. "Remembering Vietnam" is a three panel montage phototext based upon the Ronald Habaerle My Lai massacre photographs, montaged with a United Technologies advocacy announcement which was printed to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1975 withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Vietnam.
Other works including the Quebec City Window installation "Nam II" and the double triptych Nam II are considered extensions of Reading Room II