Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

"Eyes Wide Open" is "An Exhibition of the Human Cost of the Iraq War," created by the American Friends Service Committee. The exhibit has appeared in a number of cities since 2004 and is the subject of a documentary film. The rhetoric of the American Friends is unusual in its combination of frankness in opposition to the war and its steady sense of the human dignity of all involved. The AFSC goes beyond advocacy to engage in service to survivors and victims.

The boots seem to invite contemplation. They are laid out as graves might be, with a name for each pair. Their appeal to shared, humane reflection in the open exhibit space calls to mind the AIDS Quilt. The quilt suggested the effort of its many lovingly made panels and the individuality of imagination and experience, as well as the now useless comfort that a quilt might bring to an ailing person. The quilt seems to say, over and over, "it's to late for him, for her, but not too late for the living." Some of this is suggested in the Eyes Wide Open project, but the boots have a different pattern of associations. The boots acknowledge the boots-on-the-ground military commitment of the dead, echoing funerary practices such as the empty boots in the stirrup of a dead officer. The boots suggest the imposed, manufactured, military-issue regularity of the soldier; the grounded, individual fact of the each pair of boots, with its stains and patterns of wear; and the absence of the owner, an absence suggesting both repose and utter violence.

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