January 23, 2014, marked the opening of the exhibit “Out of Rubble” that features the work of eighteen international artists from more than ten countries. The show examines the complex issues and contexts surrounding war — from causes and consequences to the possibility of recovery. Prior to the exhibit’s opening, three professors from three different colleges gathered in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theatre for a symposium — a lecture that discussed the paintings and photographs that grapple with the aftermath of war. All wars have shown destruction and death, but how have these themes lingered through time? How have they changed from war to war?
During the symposium, Professor Susanne Slavick talked about a few of the images that came out of the Israel-Lebanon debacle. She was very anti-war at the time and remembered being very unsympathetic to the experiences of the average soldier when she was younger. However, when she began hearing the stories from returning veterans and seeing how gravely they had been affected, she began to soften her views and started to put together an idea of how to artistically express reactions to war. “Out of Rubble” asks visitors to consider the destruction that each war leaves behind and how it physically, psychologically, and politically affects present and future societies. “Aware of the masters like Goya and Kollwitz whose portrayals of war haunt to this day,” Slavick explained, “I began to seek out contemporary international artists who react to the wake of war – its realities and representations.”
The next speaker was Elin O’Hara Slavick who talked about her personal experiences while visiting the Japanese city of Hiroshima. O’Hara reflected on the paper cranes that survivors of the bombs had made for those who died. She then showed her artwork during her lecture, which featured her taking images from the bomb victims or the aftermath and blending certain colors and lighting to give the images a haunting effect. One of the images was of a little boy’s hand in the hand of a Japanese nurse. The boy’s fingers had been melted together, indicating that he was a victim of the bombing. O’Hara had taken that image and made two copies of it, each with more shadow and a blue background. The hand of the boy looked eerily white in the photo. This provoked a reaction that the speakers mentioned, one of sadness and mortification.
The final speaker was Civil War historian and professor Megan Kate Nelson, who talked about the images and artwork that came out of the Civil War. Nelson wanted people to think more about visual art and how the images of destruction affect people. She showed many images of Atlanta, Georgia, from 1864 and Colombia, South Carolina, from 1865 — two citites that had been destroyed by Sherman’s army. These nineteen-century images alongside contemporary representations of destruction demonstrated a continuity regarding war; a message that all three speakers voiced: that out of the rubble comes hope of recovery, not just despair at the destruction that war has wrought.
The exhibit is on display in the Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College from January 23 to March 8, 2014.