Damn Dice

Photo of an installation created by the artist Urs Jaeggi

The dog or cat that is kicked by the foot of a human knows who caused pain. But shot and wounded by the pellet of an air rifle, it is confronted with the invisible hand of fate or of a god. The animal partially paralyzed by it, suffers but does not avoid the territory of the human being who shot it. It is oblivious of the source of its suffering. A pellet or bullet comes from nowhere; it cannot link what has happened to it, to the source.

The source of the danger that humankind faces is also something that man, on the whole, seems to be oblivious of. For how many decades have we lived with ICBMs - Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear wearheads,  hid in bunkers we chose to ignore, even if they were not too far away from where some of us lived. For how many years have we accepted, in other parts of the world, medium range missiles and "tactical" nuclear weapons, battlefield weapons, as they call them, and the modern equivalent of what we all called Flying Fortresses decades ago. They, too, carrying a deadly freight: atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, neutron bombs, you name it.

There was a time when we taught our kids to seek cover under a table, and when we learned how to protect us with a briefcase. Is there something more absurd, or more childish? We love the small child hiding its face behind a towel; the little boy cannot see us while we still see him, but he thinks he is invisible. When he gets a little older, he begins to sense that we can see him but he still likes this games; he enjoys the make-believe quality of it. Have we, too, grotesquely or absurdly enjoyed the make-believe quality of the "deterrence game," the assumption that all is well and nothing will ever happen? 

The artist Urs Jaeggi has created a strange "installation": three giant cubes, made of iron, and partly buried in the earth - as if they had fallen from out of nowhere, out of the sky, in some unsuspected, enigmatic moment, the moment when the giants or gods played their game and their dice, three of them, fell on the woundable surface of this planet.

The gods who are playing the game -  invisible, hidden gods -  are none others than we ourselves, humanity. But we don't want to see it. We are such strangers to ourselves that we would not recognize ourselves if we looked into the mirror. Something we are very careful to avoid. We do not want to see our face, and we don't want to comprehend our actions.

It is us, manunkind, as E.E. Cummings once called it, who wage war against nature. Who heat up the waters of the oceans, who melt the glaciers of Antarctica and the glaciers that plunge into Baffin Bay. It is us who make species after species extinct. It is us who starve millions to death, millions and millions, in fact. Fellow human beings.
AND IT IS US WHO WAGE WAR AND PREPARE FOR MORE WARS. Perhaps the unimagined, the impossible yet all too possible nuclear war that will pit the last remaining superpower, America, against some big country -  armed less well, yet nonetheless with thousands of nuclear weapons.

If the dice fall out of the sky, if the unimaginable happens, what will remain of humankind?
O I KNOW - the experts have long since conducted their experiments: they jotted down, in their secret reports, that the soldiers asked to watch nuclear explosions in Nevada and the Australian desert and the villagers near Semipalatinsk who bathed in the craters and who caught fish in them, survived. For how long? Not long enough, in many cases. Don't worry, the experts say. There were survivors. We found them, we tested them, screened them. They were there, afflicted by ailments or not - even in Hiroshima. The experts come to Iraq, to Bosnia, to Kosovo and test the people who breathed uranium dust, who ate potatoes raised in uranium dust. They survived, many survived, some died, the experts say. They look away when women give birth to children without lungs or a child with two heads. The experts know, these things happen. They shrug their shoulders, They write their reports. They convey the message. Even nuclear wars can be waged. There will be a victor and the vanquished, as usual, and life will go on. Is this the message they convey and have conveyed and will go on to convey, to our leaders? Life, what life will go on when the dice are dropped? Not three of them, but thousands, perhaps. And the children with two heads, how many will look at us, before they die and are put away? 

The gods are playing their grand game in the sky, they are far from us. Sheltered by bodyguards, hidden in their White Mansion or behind the brick walls of an ancient palace, and we, the onlookers, look at the facade of the mansion, at the facade of the old palace, at the images that appear and vanish on the television screen, and we get nothing. And we suppress our fears. Everything is well, and we are safe, we tell the little boy inside us. We are hiding, running away from our responsibility. We refuse to take those damn dice out of the hands of men who make us believe that they are gods.

- Jan Howard

                                                               Go back to AiS 14