EWU student artwork representing the September 11 terrorist attacks went on display today outside the Art department’s auditorium. Nine visual constructs, the interpretations of design students this fall quarter, are the result of a challenge by their professor, Chris Sublett, a 28-year veteran of EWU art. The simple challenge: to create a design that represented the September 11 tragedy that goes beyond the usual visual cliches such as the American flag or someone crying beside the rubble.
Sublett had the idea for the class, similar to an assignment he gave during the Gulf War. At that time “we didn’t have the unfortunate thing of leading into this before school started, I only gave the assignment to one class and the class was about half way through before they [the military] started throwing ammo around,” said Sublett.
Then as now the professor gave his students a choice of an alternative assignment, “particularly because there are foreign students enrolled in class” and he thought this could be very uneasy for them. “It’s not their issue necessarily, so I made it optional. Anybody that felt strongly about it being too difficult or say maybe their brother or sister were killed, or sister, which could easily have happened, they might find it just too traumatic to deal with, but everybody did it, nobody chose to do the alternative. Obviously this is an extreme emotional thing,” Sublett said. “It’s emotional to me.”
Sublett has a connection to some of those who lost their lives that day. He tells of a coincidence a year ago when he stayed at a hotel half a block from the corner of 8th Ave. where there was a fire station. He happened to start talking to one of the firefighters, both men being avid cooks, and the firefighter insisted on inviting the professor into the station for a tour of the kitchen and facilities.
After the strikes on September 11th Sublett tells “I found out that he [the firefighter] and every person in that fire department, on that shift, are dead. The difference of it, as I told my class…that puts a face on it.” Sublett found out about the deaths when the fire commissioner was a guest on the David Letterman show. In answer to a question Letterman asked, the commissioner replied that the ladder company on the corner of 8th and 48th lost 17 men.
Sublett then went to the main fire department in Spokane and asked firefighters there “what does that represent in terms of man power for one fire station?” and it so happened one of the guys that had been in communication with them came in and said “that’s all of them.” That next day, when I said “that puts a face on it, when you hear about the same men on national television…”
Sublett went on to tell of even another personal connection he has to the New York community. Said Sublett, “My star student, and every teacher has those students they like to think of as most successful, and mine is a genuine, big time, New York artist. He was a student of mine when I taught in Philadelphia and he lived in that zone, actually only a half a mile away [from ground zero.] He was affected by it, as we are even, but he didn”t lose his life or his residence, he couldn”t live in it for a while. It affected his wife and his kid.”
In talking about the collection of images, Sublett said, “I was telling them what your going to see, what you’ve already seen, and how most of them are clichÃ©s. Granted sometimes a clichÃ© is the only thing that will wash for public mass consumption because you can’t do things real sophisticated or you start losing the general population.”
“I pointed out things that are predictable, I said the American flag isgoing to be over everything but that’s something that’s pretty hard to avoid and it’s up to you as a creative person to figure out what to do.”
Sublett referred to one image, created by Corrine Westerman, “this one I think is really wonderful, the ticket’s been punched, its like a time card, you know the punch is there, its an emptiness below the skyline, above it…so graphically I think it really works,” said Sublett.
Next referring to a work by Sabrina Gere he said, “this I think is wonderful and sophisticated. At first it looks like an ordinary kind of design, but it is the Islamic crescent and the Christian cross kind of battling it out.”
“They are attaching and piercing each other. It exists on a real sophisticated level, but this would not be something that would work on a newspaper by and large, it’d have to be kind of the newspaper read by college professors or so, not necessarily even artists, just the fact to be able to pick that up. Its like the difference between New Yorker magazine cartoons and other magazine cartoons, there’s a lot of New Yorker stuff people just don’t get” said Sublett
Lastly, Sublet gave explanation of the visual creation of Chris Felder, “the colors representing all of the people that work in the trade towers being sucked through that black hole and then emerged as American martyrs to be mourned.”
See the exhibit yourself in the Art department on EWU Cheney campus. In the wake of the terror and tears, it is refreshing to see some of the ways people are dealing with what has happened to our country and its people, to themselves, and it is most always at least educational to see the world through someone else’s eyes.