It is ironic to call an exhibition that is installed every year on the same date “spontaneous.” That is the case, though, with Frank McEntire’s exhibit Spontaneous Memorial now on display at The Gallery at Library Square, level four of the downtown Salt Lake City Library.
Spontaneous Memorial has already been installed twice, first at Utah Valley State College in 2004 and at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, Idaho, in 2005. McEntire plans to install the exhibit every year during the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks until 2011.
The exhibit consists of five main works installed along the interior walls of the gallery surrounding the sixth piece, “Spontaneous Memorial Fence,” a grid structure that creates a sacred interior space.The grid contains 3,000 tags, each a collage fashioned from The New York Times publication “Portraits of Grief,” representing a victim of the 9/11 attacks. The public is invited to record their thoughts on these tags and hang them on the grid. Inside the sacred space two book holders out of a Christian chapel sustain two open copies of “Portraits of Grief” from which McEntire has extracted his collage material. Looking at these books causes the viewer to see their own reflection in the mirror pyramid that anchors the space.
Another component of this exhibit, “Ledger,” consists of 24 chapters with 22 pages each, and once again invites the gallery patrons to participate in an experience of memorialization.”Message Table” holds the tools for the creation of these works: pencil, quill, sharpeners, tags and other materials used to create the memorial itself.”Oh Say What is Truth” is the most disturbing piece in the exhibit. A wooden card holder, the type, which can be seen in any LDS chapel, used to hold the numbers to hymns, displays, in its first row, the numbers 331; in the next rows, however, McEntire has placed the Iraqi most-wanted playing cards depicting Saddam Hussein, his sons and others of the former regime. Below this an LDS hymnal is open to hymn 331, “Oh Say What is Truth.” The exultant and hopeful imagery of “Fly with Angels,” a liturgical stole featuring white doves, seems a counterpoint to the complicated emotions evoked by “Oh Say What is Truth.” Finally, a number of the “Portraits of Grief” portraits, enlarged considerably and somewhat masked by McEntire’s paint drippings and scraping, surround the room.
How is an exhibit, repetitively installed like this, spontaneous? The exhibit evokes more the process of memorialization itself than it does the memorialized. Most of the portraits are cut in such a way that the full text cannot be read, and many are obscured by McEntire’s paint drippings. The spontaneity happens in the moment when the patrons (different in every location, changed by every year) join the act of memorializing. The meaning of the event is not a fact to be read in a book or obituary; the meaning is the event itself, what each person brings to the remembering of the tragedy. This way it becomes an installation of the human spirit, constructed, yes, around a specific event, but through its evocation of the process of memorializing, remembers all events of tragedy. Anything more personal, anything more memorialized of the locale and the people in New York and Washington would, considering the physical and emotional distance of being in the Intermountain West, seem somehow opportunistic and detached. Ultimately, the spontaneity in this exhibit will depend on what you bring to it.
Spontaneous Memorial and Other Works, is on display at The Gallery at Library Square through Sept. 30.
Kasey Boone is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has been living in Utah since 1990. He has a BA in French and Cultural Studies. He is a self-described “orphaned post-modernist.”