Foreword of Al Farrow Catalogue
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig.com
The haunting art of Al Farrow – mosques, synagogues, churches, and reliquaries constructed with guns, bullets, and bone – exposes a powerful, often hidden truth about war. Religious leaders and religious institutions sanctify war’s barbarity. This perversion of faith away from the sacred, the nurturing and the preservation of life, directs believers, as Farrow makes clear, towards the unholy deities of nationalism, violence, vengeance and death. Cruder apostles of death use suicide vests and knives to murder their captives. Our Israeli allies and we in the Middle East use militarized drones, attack aircraft, missiles and heavy artillery. It all ends up, morally, in the same place. And Farrow shows us this place. He shows us our collective temples of death.
In times of conflict, authentic culture, which seeks to transform and expose truths about us, is branded as subversive. Culture, in wartime, is the first thing destroyed by the state. Art that questions and examines who we are, that explains ourselves to ourselves, and that unmasks the pathological lusts and delusions of a society in war is always attacked as treasonous. In wartime, those who question the glorious cause, the virtues of the nation and the myth of war become internal enemies. Artists, real artists, become seditionists. They expose unpleasant truths that defy the cant of national self-exaltation and denounce the brutal dehumanization of the other, the enemy, that is part of the contagion of war.
Farrow’s work does what great art does – makes plain, and in Farrow’s case, literal – a reality about war we refuse to acknowledge. He shows us our actual houses of worship, our charnel houses built by instruments of death. And he does so by fashioning religious relics out of the material we use to kill. Farrow forces us to confront not only the role institutionalized religion plays in war, but the religion of war, Santo Guerro adoring itself. And he knows no faith is exempt – Christianity, Islam nor Judaism.
Farrow combines a draftsman’s precision with an artist’s understanding of metaphor. The sculptures’ exquisite architectural forms, like the unholy instruments of war, are strangely beautiful. The human brain sees the structure in its entirety before noticing the particulars. The edifices have a satiny, burnished gleam. But we see, looking closer, that the flying buttresses are automatic weapons, and the Byzantine mosaic of the mosque’s golden dome is tiled with golden bullet casings.
There is a shock in this recognition. It is the collision between the profane and the sacred.
The most disturbing sculptures feature human bone.
The reliquary series includes Skull of Santo Guerro, which showcases a human skull in a glass case. The skull is fallen back, looking up towards the brass crucifix above the casket. Its jaw is agape as though screaming. It lies on a heap of oxidized ammunition casings.
In Jawbone of Santo Guerro, a ghoulish brown fragment with five teeth lies on a red velvet cushion. The recognizably human organic matter, entombed and enthroned by cold metal weapons, is horrific. The five molars in particular, still white despite decay, make it impossible not to realize that this shattered piece of bone was once a person.
Farrow’s sculptures have a jarring, visceral impact. They are appalling in their gruesome immediacy. And yet Farrow captures too the black and macabre humor that is part of war. In Casket Reliquary II (Personal Vibrator of Santo Guerro), he creates a heavy, bullet-studded casket. Inside, on a bright bed of red velvet, is a golden, phallic machine-gun bullet, hooked up with an A/C adaptor. Violence, as Farrow knows, is erotic. And war brings out dark, disturbing passions that lie buried and unexamined in the deepest recesses of our subconscious. Sexual exploitation, including rape, is endemic in war. The armed perpetrator, intoxicated with a godlike power to revoke another person’s charter to live on this earth, views all human beings as disposable objects to satisfy the combatant’s urge for gratification or destruction or both. And almost none of us are immune from these urges. The frenetic eroticism unleashed in war, is defined by an urge to dominate and humiliate the weak sexually. This sexual urge mirrors the violent drive to dominate, humiliate and destroy the opponent in battle. It is the banishing of love.
Farrow does not take sides. His target is Santo Guerro itself, the strong who prey on the weak. His Jewish Ritual Objects include a dreidel made of bullets and steel, featuring a dollar sign and signs for the yen, British Pound and Israeli Shekel; and a mezuzah, made from a bullet, with a narrow window for the Shema Yisrael parchment cut into the metal. Here, for any Palestinian trapped in the open air Israeli imposed ghetto of Gaza, is the appropriate symbol of the Jewish state. Farrow’s domestic childrens’ and household things, created by items of violence, brought back to me the misery and despair of children in war. The hardest thing to witness in war is what it does to children. The vacant eyes of the tiny corpses I saw in war condemns us all. Menorah (Fence II) with its twists and knots of barbed wire, and nine straight white candles, invokes the horrors not only of the Holocaust, but of war itself. War is a Satanic form of worship.
I have hidden behind walls with armed rebels in El Salvador as helicopters hunted us down. I was at once awed by the majestic force of these machines of war and terrified. We feel this twin allure in Farrow’s work. It is at once attractive and repellent. It thrills and revolts us.
By creating his buildings and caskets out of used ammunition, Farrow introduces into our consciousness, however subliminally, the colossal global arms trade, a multi-trillion dollar industry that keeps the gears of war grinding forward in its unrelenting pursuit of profit.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a speech given on April 16, 1953, said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Sigmund Freud divided the forces in human nature between the Eros instinct, the impulse within us that propels us to become close to others, to preserve and conserve; and the Thanatos, or death instinct, the impulse that works towards the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves. He argued that these two instincts were in constant conflict within the individual and society. We have, Farrow shows us, chosen the way of Thanatos, nailing ourselves to the cross of iron. Farrow, by shattering the conventions and myths used to glorify war, forces us to confront our weakness, vulnerability, and mortality. In taking instruments of violence and annihilation, and creating objects of macabre beauty that open our eyes to the perversion of war, Farrow turns this hijacking upside down. He reclaims the sacred.