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 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
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
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
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