A simple wrong turn off State Street leads to a little known side entrance of the Overture Center. Through the side door is the Playhouse Gallery, which is difficult to find from the center’s front entrance. This is the location of 9/11 Then and Now, a photography exhibit opening on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
This placement proves to be unintentionally fitting. The display provides an unusual way to explore not only the disaster, but also it’s aftermath. Instead of using more common perspectives, three photographers decided to not only capture the tragedy of the Sept. 11 attacks, but also the negative repercussions coming from it. 9/11 Then and Now takes an indirect approach at examining a tragedy still fresh in the minds of many Americans.
The presence of three separate photographers allows for some aesthetic variety, though the pieces maintain conceptual unity. This helps to create a single coherent exhibit instead of something disjointed. It quickly becomes apparent that the endeavor was a group venture instead of an individual one.
All three of the photographers are members of The Center for Photography at Madison, or CPM. Thus, the display is away from the site of the disaster, created by artists distanced from there as well. While 9/11 has inspired countless works of art, they are usually created in the New York area and displayed there. As such, Then and Now provides the opportunity to see how people from another part of the United States perceive and grapple with the tragedy.
A modest number of pictures line the walls of the Playhouse Gallery, all of them relatively small, some in color and others black and white. While the prints seem to get swallowed by the size of the wall space, their size also requires the viewer to get close to each piece and to view it intimately. They were not meant to be large pieces with universally satisfying messages, and their size suggests this.
A simple picture of a cemetery would probably not conjure images of the 9/11 attacks, but there are two statues – standing like towers – instilling an unavoidable morbid sentiment. There are almost no pictures of the towers themselves, of the victims or the survivors.
In place of the towers, for example, many pictures feature items existing in pairs. Crosses can be found in similar abundance. Instead of defining the event or its aftermath, the photographers opted to use symbols that elicit a variety of responses from people, thus highlighting the country’s polarized state, worsened by the attacks now a decade old.
While the exhibit itself is small, it’s opening provides the opportunity to remember a defining historical moment in an unconventional way. Replacing the flags and patriotism that might be found at a memorial are depictions of deteriorating Americana. Replacing the portrayals of destruction and heroism are pieces far more open to interpretation.
Although the imagery is abstract, the concepts behind the photographs remain potent. As such, 9/11 Then and Now raises important questions at the most sensitive, but also most important, moment in time. While it may be an unusual way of doing so, 9/11 Then and Now provides its audience with a chance to not only remember, but also reflect, on the most recent important juncture in America’s history.
9/11 Then and Now is running now through Nov. 6 at the Overture Center For the Arts in the Playhouse Gallery. To learn more, visit www.overturecenter.com/production/911-then-and-now.