By **Jamie Goldenberg**
I came across Swedish artist Willem Andersson’s paintings in Manhattan at the VOLTA art fair last week. Decorated generals with faces wrapped like mummies are posed for traditional military portraits. Mr. Andersson fabricated meaningless medals for the generals’ coats, calling their value, and the value of military rank, into question. He believes that in the military, “the person behind it [the uniform] has no importance.”
“Few civilized countries in the world have such a war fetish as Americans have. Patriotism in Sweden is considered quite ugly.” Perhaps this is why the men in uniform have concealed faces.
For more on this thought, I contacted my friend Tim, who first served in Iraq as a member of the 101st Airborne Division when he was 18 years old. A little over a year ago, Tim reported to base to prepare for a second deployment to Iraq. Upon his arrival he immediately suffered a severe attack of PTSD and left the base camp without permission—he went AWOL. His PTSD was so severe that he was later officially discharged from the army.
On the topic of rank and Andersson’s nonsensical medals, Tim explained, “There are two types of commanders in the military, the ones that started as grunts and soldiers and worked their way up to the officer ranks and then the ones who go to OCS (Officer Candidate School) right out of college and become officers as soon as they get their four-year degree. They then have to have little experience before they are assigned a company to lead into war. I believe the commanders that are soldiers and work as grunts first are much better leaders than someone with a degree and no experience on the battlefield.”
“As far as identity and rank in the military, I believe the military strips you of your identity,” Tim continued. “Even when the soldiers aren’t in their uniforms and working they are all the same.”
Copyright 2011 Jamie Goldenberg
Jamie Goldenberg is Guernica’s assistant art editor.