From my bedroom window on the 32nd floor across the street from the World Trade Center I watched as the first plane struck the building on September 11th. I ran to save my children from the school beneath the towers, trying to shelter them from the horror of what they were seeing as we fled up west Street. A few months later, while we shifted around the city in various apartments since our apartment downtown was contaminated, i kept thinking about my personal experience of living in northern Spain as a teenager in the 70s. I thought about Picasso’s great painting and what it meant to be making art in these times, particularly in the context of a three dimensional memorial, but in general what it means to make images of atrocity when it surrounds you. And i wondered, what remained in the village of Gernika itself? Since i had not lived in Spain for nearly thirty years and was not in contact with the family with whom i had lived during that time, i threw an email message in a bottle and wrote an anonymous letter to an internet address, gernika.com explaining who i was. I asked whoever was at the other end if there were any fragments of the bomb left in the village. I wondered what memorials existed in the town sixty five years after the first air drop bombing which was to changed the world as it was then known.
The next day i received a response from the Director of the Peace Organization in Gernika Spain who said” We have been waiting for you..”
The rest has become my story. For the last five years i have visited the village of Gernika more than twenty times. Last spring I made a multi channel video work based on the the interviews i conducted with some of the survivors of the bombing seventy years ago. I was moved by the memories of their experience of the day they were bombed and struck by certain characteristic similarities to the day when i was among those who fled from the WTC on that day. The memories of this particular group of survivors, now in their eighties are sacred truths. While their stories are particular to this event, they can also be perceived in a universal context. These testimonials contain more humanity and resonance than any architectural memorial structure can attempt as i believe that the feeling of loss, like the feeling of love, is universal. Acknowledging the universality of human emotion might allow us to move forward and though listening to the words of survivors and their histories, a key to our own survival exists
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.