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St. Lawrence University exhibit revisits 9/11 with a diversity of art and artists

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CANTON — When airplanes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, according to Jane A. Becker Nelson, guest curator at St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Art Gallery, 23 Romoda Dr., “much of the world stopped to watch.”

“Iconic photographs and videos saturated the media in the days and weeks that followed, leaving an indelible image on the mind’s eye,” Mrs. Becker Nelson told a gathering of about 25, mostly college students, on Sunday. “In the ten years since the attacks, many contemporary artists have turned their attention to the terrorist acts of 9/11 and the ongoing global impact of the U.S. response.”

“Remembering 9/11: Looking Back, Moving Forward,” on exhibit in the Brush gallery until Oct. 22, according to Catherine L. Tedford, gallery director, “is not just about looking back, but also about making sense of what happened.

On display is actually a collection of three separate exhibits, including “Aftermath: Photographs of Ground Zero,” by Joel Meyerowitz, “Re-framing Terrorism,” and selections from “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.”

“The three work well juxtaposed with one another,” Mrs. Tedford said. “It gets people thinking and asking questions.”

The Meyerowitz exhibit, which consists of 22 photographs in chronological order from Sept. 23, 2001, to May 12, 2002, is “the only existing photographic record of ground zero after the attacks,” according to Mrs. Tedford, who spoke to the gathering about “Aftermath.”

“He was the only photographer to have continued access to the site and describe its transformation over the next nine months from a place of total devastation to cleared bedrock,” she said.

Mrs. Tedford described Meyerowitz’s work as “highly documentary” and “ultra-local.”

“Re-framing Terrorism,” on the other hand, according to Mrs. Becker Nelson, is “an artistic look at how the event has changed us from voices from around the globe,” bringing together artists from Canada, France, Germany, Iraq and the U.S., including Josh Azzarella, Wafaa Bilal, Sandow Birk, Anthony Clune, Pascal Lievre, Benny Nemerofsky, Elyse Pignolet, John Saurer and Paul Shambroom.

“Several artists in the exhibition pursue a desire to literally ‘reframe’ the terrorist attacks, breaking a heavy reliance on the popular media imagery that permeates our visual associations with the event,” Mrs. Becker Nelson said.

Like Azzarella’s seconds-long video clip of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, altered and edited to include not only the first tower still whole and standing, but also the plane not even hitting the second building — a plane simply flies by the two towers, and nothing catastrophic happens.

“Again,” Mrs. Becker Nelson said, “the artist literally trying to reframe the terrorist acts. But despite the video,” she asked, “do we insert reality from our memory?”

Reality and memory for many of the students is probably tough to distinguish. In 2001, today’s traditional St. Lawrence University students were between the ages of 8 and 13, “the same age as the 83 artists’ works selected for” a 2002 exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, according to Mrs. Becker Nelson.

“Of all the artwork prompted by 9/11, some of the most visceral comes from children, who were perhaps the most impressionable witnesses to the shocking events,” she said. “In the months following the attacks, the New York University Child Study Center collected over 800 artworks by children in the New York City metropolitan area.”

Fourteen of the 83 are displayed in the Owen D. Young Library, as part of St. Lawrence University’s 9/11 art tribute.

“Through drawing, painting and collage,” Mrs. Becker Nelson said, “these young artists demonstrate a remarkable ability to convey powerful and vacillating emotions: anger and confusion, grief and mourning, healing and hope.”

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