On Trauma, Grief and Resilience: A project at the Museum of Modern Art.

How can art ask us to think deeply about resilience, and what it means to be resilient? Which experiences are supposed to be remembered and which are supposed to be forgotten? How can we begin to imagine a nonviolent world when we are rarely allowed to grieve over its violence?

Objects can connect us through their histories and the powerful stories they carry with them. When we are able to change their form, it can be monumental. We can add our own voice and that can be healing.

In the fall of 2015 I proposed a project to the Museum of Modern Art’s education department. I hoped that through it, we could tell a story about changing national priorities – from a war and consumption-centered nation to one that is eager to learn from its own violence and vulnerability.

What would it mean to take an object with a violent history and cooperatively transform it? How can we begin to share our experiences and differences through an intergenerational, multiracial, and multinational conversation about pain, and love?

I proposed purchasing a US military trailer at government auction and asking the students to be the idea makers, the re-creators. They would architect the redesign, keep budget, and be project managers. I would facilitate, question, advise on, and ultimately champion their ideas.

A trailer that had been redelivered to the US from Iraq was ours to work with. With seventeen high school students, we began with a series of architectural charrettes. We decided upon a criteria, or guidelines that defined what’s important to us that should be reflected in the project. It was overwhelmingly practical: what we had the budget for, our aesthetic positions, and most of all our concerns about safety. Even with all of us, this two-ton trailer was a force.

We started and then later abandoned a series of ideas. The things we didn’t end up doing:

 

We didn’t turn the military trailer into a park or a garden.

We didn’t turn the military trailer into a mobile kitchen.

We didn’t turn the military trailer into a giant printmaking press.

We didn’t use the tires for tire swings.

We didn’t completely deconstruct the trailer and rebuild it into a sphere.

We didn’t turn the military trailer into an art studio.

We didn’t turn the military trailer on its side and project films on the trailer bed.

We didn’t melt the military trailer down and mold the steel into a sword.

 

Instead we made it into a social space that’s near impossible to define. It was a small piece of each of those things; it came from different voices and took months of compromise and working together. It came from a process of learning how to use new tools and taking time to teach each other the tools we were already skilled in.

The project was about revaluing the ability to grieve. From there, it was about transforming an object into a symbol, and then into a space. We looked for a premade form to process some of those emotions collectively, but finally had to create a new one.

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