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John Sevigny: The Center of Our Loss

January 11, 2012

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What Jane Hammond’s Fallen says about American soldier-centered mourning.

By **John Sevigny**

toy soldier.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by R Barraez D’Lucca.

Last week we asked our readers and contributors what are the obligations of a critic writing about a political work of art. This is one of several responses we will publish throughout the week. The debate started with a review and its follow up.

The debate about Fallen seems a little inconsequential. The work is, first, not all that interesting or original, and, second, is intended specifically for a U.S. audience. These kinds of pieces are always about mourning. While I think most people in the States are aware of Iraqi casualties, our sense of loss is about Americans who were killed. It’s one of the normal consequences of the fact that humanity is divided up into nation-tribes. And it’s also just normal protagonism. Victims from “home” have something to do with “us,” theoretically anyway, while victims from other countries don’t.

All of this becomes more complicated when we try to define what soldiers are versus what we want them to be. There’s very little difference, to my mind, between the armies of Bush-Cheney and the armies of Bin Laden or Hussein. It’s always about old, rich men sending the young into battle. The people, most of them kids, who take up machine guns for causes, are victims, but it’s not that simple. They’re killers, but it’s not that simple either. I feel the same way about Calderon’s army and that of El Chapo Guzman. It’s a sad situation that’s older than gunpowder.

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John Sevigny is a photographer, teacher, writer, and curator, who lives in Mexico.

  Jillian Steinhauer: In Defense of Jane Hammond’s Fallen: A good critic doesn’t tell the artist what they ought to have done. More
 
  Lorraine Adams: Obligation or Wisdom?: The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist weighs in on our debate over criticism and Jane Hammond’s Fallen. More
     
  Jillian Steinhauer: Best Political Art of 2011: The American soldiers honored in artist Jane Hammond’s Fallen installation are remembered as individuals instead of as a statistic. More
 
  Genvieve Walker: The Best Art of 2011: The best art wasn’t found in galleries this year. It was found online. More

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