The last U.S. army convoy drove out of Iraq this month. Nearly nine years and 4,500 American deaths later, the messy and controversial Iraq War has drawn to a close. Meanwhile, at Flag Art Foundation in Chelsea, Fallen, a stunning tribute by artist Jane Hammond to the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, sits quietly in a gallery. When they slotted the artwork into their exhibition schedule earlier this year (or even last), the curators at Flag couldn’t have known how prescient their timing would be.
Begun in 2004, Fallen consists of a low table covered in reproductions of brilliantly colored leaves. Each leaf including stem—printed from a digital file and painstakingly cut by Hammond—represents a dead soldier, with his or her name written on it in ink: Christopher Milton Kurth, José Antonio Torre Jr., Tyanna Sharay Felder. The piece went on view in September with 4,455 leaves, meaning Hammond is now thankfully close to completing it.
For anyone who grew up raking leaves and then jumping into the large, sometimes soggy piles, it’s hard not to feel a surge of joy when viewing the work. A memory of youth comes rushing back, and with it the impulse to scatter the leaves everywhere, just to watch their dazzling colors fall. But autumn leaves are, of course, dead remnants of the life of spring, and seeing the names of soldiers inscribed on Hammond’s reproductions is a sobering reminder of their fate. These men and women were denied natural deaths—they fell earlier than they were supposed to. By choosing a leaf to stand in for each of them, Hammond reconnects them to the natural world. And by taking the time and care to create those beautiful leaves, she imbues their memories with humanity and grace.
Fallen is on view at the Flag Art Foundation through December 31.