We’re asked to “Never Forget” 9/11, but what exactly are we not supposed to forget? The answer is as varied as the neighborhoods of New York City. Artist Michelle Carmen Gomez hopes her viewers examine these answers in her latest exhibit, Angry Birds: Perception. Projection. Creation, which held its opening celebration one day before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“What does that plane represent to everybody?” the artist asks me as we look at a photograph of a plane flying towards the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. There are other unnerving photos on display, as well, including one of a plane flying towards the Sphinx and another of a plane flying towards the center of Mecca.
The image of the passenger-plane-as-weapon is meant to provoke a reaction that challenges people’s long-held fears over terrorism, including their initial reaction to the attacks on 9/11, as well as the immediate calls for revenge.
“It’s overtly shocking,” Gomez says of the image. “That was purposeful because we did immediately go for an eye-for-an-eye. It was almost like they exploited our fear and they were like ‘now’s the time to do it.’ I know that we fall into it quite easily.”
“This show is really just about asking different questions,” she explains. Questions such as “what can we do differently? How can we move through the pain of it or the victimization of it? Is it something we’re going to be angry about forever?”
“I think it’s good that we ask different questions,” she says, as she shows me sculptures that symbolize the rubble from 9/11. “I think dialogue is so critical. I don’t think we talk enough. I think we busy ourselves” in order to avoid facing such issues and asking tough, philosophical questions about our experiences.
“This show is about perception and what you decide to do with things that happen to you. How do you decide to process what happens to you? It’s something you’re confronted with everyday and sometimes it takes something shocking for you to go ‘let me look at this again’ or ‘let me just not pay attention to it at all.’ Neither is right or wrong.”
“I’m not making a judgment call,” she clarifies. “I’m not saying ‘don’t be angry’ or ‘don’t really upset’ or ‘everybody should be happy.’ I’m not doing any of that. It’s not about judgments. It’s not even about explanations. This show is about questions. What’s bothers me? What am I nervous about here?”
“At the end of the day, bad things happen to people all the time. We have a choice to re-evaluate and decide what we’re going to take from it and what we’re going to learn from it.”
The Angry Birds exhibit (named after the popular game) runs through Sept. 20th at Studio 1520.