Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gratification through Intimidation?

Ripples from the controversy of Elia Gurna's Windows on Main St project continued this past week. After being removed from the library, the piece was moved to the window of Go North Gallery to complete the run of the exhibition. Below I'm posting statements from Go North co-directors, Karlos Carcamo and Greg Slick detailing a threat by some bigoted individuals to carry out an act of vandalism that was discovered subsequent to the removal of the artwork.


Dear Friends:

The recent controversy over Elia Gurna’s flag, “I Hear America Singing,” and its display in the window of the Howland Public Library in Beacon brings to the fore some profoundly disturbing issues. Not only did the controversy result in the removal of the flag from the library, but transformed this unthreatening artwork into an object of scorn that some would have banned from any kind of public view. Opinions have been heatedly expressed on both sides of the issue and, certainly, these points have been well taken. But, just as personal opinions enjoy the freedom of a public forum in this country, so do art and its open discourse with the general public.

Some Beaconites, however, apparently do not share that view, and suggest through their actions that any artwork that does not align with their personal opinions must be removed from their sight, and from that of those who may potentially take issue with that artwork. What’s more, several locals, I am shocked and ashamed to report, would take illegal action against those who display art that is not to their liking. It has come to my attention that certain unnamed individuals had been allegedly conspiring to smash the windows of Go North gallery on Main Street in Beacon, where the flag in question was briefly displayed as part of the Windows on Main Street project. The flag has now been taken down, so the object of scorn is out of sight. But one has to wonder whether these individuals even took the trouble to find out what Elia Gurna’s flag is all about. It was called a desecration of our national flag by some, an insult to patriotic Americans by others—yet the meaning of Ms. Gurna’s flag has always been clear. The artist’s statement has been accessible to the public all along, and mentions nothing about desecration of any flag, US or otherwise. It does, however, talk about very patriotic things like hope, growth, and the beauty of honest labor. How did Ms. Gurna’s flag become so monstrously misunderstood?

Lots of miscommunication and muddled thinking has led to the demonization of a piece of art that never intended to offend anyone. Certain famous artworks have gotten a bad rap, mainly due to narrow-mindedness, media spin, and political machinations; some art cannot help but provoke controversy. And so what? What’s so terrible about a work that stirs your blood, makes you think, leads to discussion, and perhaps broadens your horizons? Last time I checked, we still live in a country where the display of art and the discourse it engenders can freely take place. Our laws guarantee it, because many brave people took risks and made sacrifices for that right. To silence even one individual, in this case an artist and her work, is to set a very menacing precedent. Censorship puts a headlock on freedom because it lets a few individuals think for the rest of us. Beacon is better than that—far better—as demonstrated by its remarkable renaissance, integrally supported by the arts. Let no one or nothing here be bullied, including the arts. Do not allow censorship in Beacon—it’s un-American.


Gregory L. Slick


Go North gallery

Dear friends and fellow artists,

This should be of concern to all of us as residents of Beacon and citizens of this country. As many of you are aware there was controversy about an artwork that hung at the Howland Public Library as part of the "Windows on Main Street" event this past month. The piece in question was Elia Gurna's "I hear America Singing" A piece based on and inspired by Walt Witman's poem of the same title. The piece in question was a replica of an American Flag made of translucent vinyl using pink and green colors. It was accompanied by a CD player with a recording of Walt Witman's poem.

The veterans in Beacon protested the piece, demanding that it be taken down. In their view it was "un-American" and "disrespectful" to those who fought and died for the values the flag represents and a slap to the face of every veteran. According to the veterans the intention of the piece does not matter. No one has the right to alter the flag in any way shape or form because it is a national sacred symbol. Elia's piece is homage to Walt Whitman and to America's working class. I've attached Elia's Statement for all to read. In any case, the Howland Public Library voted to remove the piece before the end of the Windows event.

That same day we decided to install the piece at Go North Gallery so that it could finish the run of the Windows on Main Street exhibition. While the piece was on view at the gallery individuals have routinely walked by making gestures and hurling insults. Now, it has come to my attention that certain unnamed individuals were planning on "smashing" the window of Go North Gallery and ripping Elia's piece to pieces. Also, there have been inquires into my own ethnicity by unnamed individuals wondering if I was of Middle Eastern descent. It angers me that these thugs have the nerve to say that they believe in the very values the flag symbolizes yet they go against the same rights the flag represents. They practice the same tactics that dictators in all repressive regimes use which are, violence, intimidation, racism and censorship.

They continue to use the word "Freedom" back and forth in the Beacon Free Press yet they deny an artist the freedom of self expression protected by the constitution which they all fought for. They claim ownership over a flag that does not belong to them but to every single individual citizen of this country. I refuse to stand by silent while they continue their crusade against our right as free citizens to voice our opinions and to watch the values we hold dear erode because of ignorance. Greg and I are starting a writing campaign to get the word out on what is happening in the community. So far the only voice I have heard in the press in Beacon is that of the veterans. We as a growing art community need to rally together and show them that there are other voices.

I hope you can join me in writing letters to the Beacon Free Press, Beacon Dispatch, and Poughkeepsie Journal, and any other news organization we can think of. I also want to send letters to the American Legion, Knights of Columbus, Veterans of foreign wars, Beacon City Hall, and Howland Public Library. You can get the address for these organizations from website. I will be sending another e-mail to anyone interested with a page from the Constitution that spells out what our rights are. You will be able to download this so that it can be printed out. Please mail five copies of this page to the American Legion as a reminder to the veterans of what our rights as free citizens are.

Anyone interested in brainstorming ideas for other ways of getting our voice heard please contact me. We are also planning a couple of other T-shirt projects. One is "No Censorship in Beacon". We want to get the point across to the veterans and the community that there are other more important issues affecting Beacon. If the veterans need to be angry about something, it should be the drugs that are being sold right outside their own doorstep. They shouldn't be threatening our individual freedoms and decide for us what we should say, think, or believe in. We live in a democracy not a dictatorship.

Best regards to all,
-Karlos Carcamo
Go North Gallery - A Space for Contemporary Art

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