Aftermath: Memorials for Abandoned Cities

Aftermath is intended as a group exhibition of proposals by artists for memorials for cities which have been abandoned as the result of terrorist attack or industrial accident. The idea for the show was precipitated by the frequent announcements by The Homeland Security Administration of the dangers of a terrorist attack, in particular one employing "dirty bombs" or chemical or biological agents. Such attacks would potentially render large portions of a city uninhabitable, requiring abandonment, while preserving most of the infrastructure intact. While the alerts of Homeland Security regarding the threat of terrorist attack are the most prominent harbingers of the sort of catastrophe which would create an uninhabitable city, there are in fact a host of technological or environmental threats capable of achieving the same result. It is worth noting that the first such large scale site of this type, the area around Chernobyl, was the result of an industrial accident.

If we are forced to envisage the threat of a terrorist attack on a weekly or even daily basis, a sort of attack which would render a city uninhabitable, then it is only appropriate to consider the consequences of such an attack being successful. No security system, or any man made system, can be perfectly effective. If there is a threat of such an attack or industrial accident, then there is a significant probability of it actually occurring, and it is proper and fitting to anticipate the result.

Artists are in a sense the divining rods of a culture, responding more sensitively to cultural forces and suggestions. As a consequence artists by necessity, even involuntarily, visualize the ultimate incarnation of threats, real or imagined. In addition, artists are often called upon to memorialize catastrophes. In the case of the stated threat of a dirty bomb or nuclear accident forcing abandonment of a city, it is inevitable that artists would imagine how to memorialize such an event, perhaps only in their dreams or nightmares, but here we intend to give these imaginings voice, perhaps freeing these artists from the inner terror of having such imaginings and perhaps exposing the layman to the horror which is a potential outcome of the engagement and perception of our nation in the world as well as a possible result of our technological infrastructure.

Proposals for artworks describing Memorials for Abandoned Cities will be solicted from artists. Since these are memorials for catastrophes which have yet to occur, the artist must select a city as the subject for the memorial. The exact scenario which has caused the abandonment need not be disclosed by the artist. Perhaps substantial loss of life is involved and figures in the memorial, perhaps not, or as in the case of Chernobyl, there is not a major immediate loss of life but potentially devastating long term health consequences for many.

Unlike the case of the World Trade Center Memorial, where the structures being memorialized are destroyed and are physically absent, the Abandoned Cities Memorials are forced to confront a situation where the structures are still standing, and much of the infrastructure and systems relatively intact, but rendered unsuitable for human habitation. As a corollary to this, memorials would be difficult to construct within the damaged city, and even if located within the abandoned area, would have to be viewed from a distance. This creates several paradoxes of locale and scale.

This exhibition is an attempt to actualize the consequences of the events which are presented as real threats by Homeland Security or which are hidden threats inherent in advanced technological society. If Homeland Security asks us to be vigilant and prepared, then it is only appropriate to be prepared for the worst. To this extent this exhibition is an attempt to assist Homeland Security with projecting the full potential impact of our foreign policy. If the threat of losing a major American city is real, then we should be prepared for such an eventuality, as the limits of our control over international terrorists have already been all too graphically demonstrated by the events of 9/11.

Estancia, New Mexico