The shoes I wore on Sept. 11—a pair of Rockports caked with the thick white fallout from the fallen Twin Towers—remained unworn, un-cleaned and unseen for years under my bed.
For me, there was something sacred about them. I stumbled across them one day a few years back, surprised that the white encrustation had disappeared; I tried them on. It was several more years before I started wearing them regularly again.
Somewhere in there is a metaphor for my experience of 9/11 over time, a pentimento of feeling I suspect I share with other people who were affected by the day’s events and their aftermath.
As the 10th anniversary approaches, we seem to be back searching for metaphors for 9/11. That surely helps explain the hundreds of new Sept. 11-related art exhibitions, concerts, dances, theater pieces and other arts events and individual works timed for the days around the anniversary.
Many New Yorkers sought out art's healing power at the time; many indeed created it, and not just professional artists—witness the fence full of hand-made memorials first made of paper and eventually of tiles across the street from St. Vincent’s, the trauma-equipped hospital closest to Ground Zero. While St. Vincent's went bankrupt and shut down last year, the makeshift memorial remained in place until just last week.
“For several years, a lot of artists were bringing their response to 9/11 to us,” recalls Deirdre Lawrence, principal librarian of the Brooklyn Museum.
Now, though, to be honest, I dread this fresh onslaught of Sept. 11-themed art. At the same time, I understand the impulse. How could an institution like the Brooklyn Museum ignore the 10th anniversary of the most traumatic event in recent American history?
The day after the attacks, coincidentally, the Brooklyn Museum opened its permanent exhibition, American Identities, and it is at the entrance to this exhibition that the arts institution is presenting a new installation: “Ten Years Later: Ground Zero Remembered,” opening Sept. 7.
On display will be “WTC, September 17,” a bird’s-eye view of Ground Zero taken by Christoph Draeger and made into a jigsaw puzzle. Also included will be a sculpture entitled Tuskegee Airmen Series, about the pioneering African-American aviators of World War II. Its sculptor, Michael Richards, was working in his art studio at the top of Tower One on 9/11, and was killed.
Visitors will also be provided directions to what the museum considers “healing objects” in the American Identity exhibition, such as a sculpture of hands by Louise Bourgeois that, the wall label says, “suggests the relaxation and release that might follow a pained experience.”
As a whole, this is far less directly connected to the World Trade Center site than the museum’s two previous 9/11-related exhibitions, one on the first anniversary and one on the fifth. “We all kind of felt that we had done it already,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t want to focus on the results of the disaster, but to move on.”
Have we moved on? Most intriguing to me are the two visitor comment books from the 2002 exhibition that will be under glass at “Ten Years Later” but that I had a chance to look through recently at the museum’s archives.
Many visitors, and not just children, spent a long time painstakingly drawing the Twin Towers in the book. A few commemorated specific groups lost: “In loving memory of the firefighters of Engine 205, Ladder 118 Brooklyn Heights,” one note read.
Elsewhere was written:
“About 2 weeks after 9/11, we were on the 69th St. Pier in Brooklyn staring at an empty skyline only to hear two children talking while they were riding their bikes: ‘We’ll never see the Towers again.’”
Many wrote a version of “We will always remember” (Do we still think this?) One wrote, simply:
[These were the times when the attacks took place]
One filled a heart-felt page: “We need to listen [to emotions]. To do that, we need to sit with ourselves and each other and not succumb to the media circles of distraction.”
But another page suggests a lack of listening. Three people write messages in different color crayons:
On Sunday, Sept. 11 itself, the museum will present a film series, which includes an hour-long documentary, “Objects and Memory” described as a look at “individuals who have preserved meaningful objects in the aftermath of personal upheaval.”
I thought of my walking shoes. I’m not sure they qualify anymore.
Brooklyn-based 9/11 arts-related events:
‘TEN YEARS LATER: GROUND ZERO REMEMBERED’ (Sept. 7-Oct. 30) Brooklyn Museum of Art, 200 Eastern Parkway at Prospect Park. 718-638-5000
‘SEPTEMBER 11 MEMORIAL CONCERT’ (Sept. 11 at 1:30 p.m.) The Sherman Chamber Ensemble plays elegies by Fauré and Rachmaninoff, and Smetana’s Trio in G minor (Op. 15). Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture, Grand Army Plaza. 718-230-2100. Free.
WORDLESS MUSIC ORCHESTRA (Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m.) The premiere of the live orchestration of William Basinski’s ambient “Disintegration Loop 1.1,” created in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the weeks before and after the destruction of the World Trade Center; also, works by Osvaldo Golijov, Ingram Marshall and Alfred Schnittke. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Temple of Dendur, 212-570-3949. Streamed live on wqxr.org and npr.org/music.
KRONOS QUARTET (Sept. 21-24) The group performs “Awakening,” described as a musical meditation on 9/11 featuring 12 pieces from 11 countries. With the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; part of the Next Wave Festival. Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton St.at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, 718-636-4100.