What Happens After was commissioned by BRIC, a public institution in Brooklyn curated by Jenny Gerow in 2018.
A deconstructed and creatively transformed 19,000-pound light medium tactical vehicle (LMTV, a military cargo truck), acts to provoke a reimagining of public life, centering on the existence of objects with violent histories. The LMTV is meant to be understood as a component reflecting a little visible but ever-expanding global market for minerals and their complex supply chains (military and otherwise).
What happens when an object that embodies both the systemic violence represented by war and climate change is manifested in a public space? The vehicle - used in the Gulf and Afghan wars and made in the U.S. by Oshkosh Defense - was collaboratively re-designed by nine artists, veterans, and activists into a platform for performance. Throughout the run of the exhibition, programming was presented on the platform. The activation of an object with such a loaded history can further challenge abilities to collectively re-envision environments in the present and future. When we're able to change the form and function of an object with a violent and complex history, it can be powerful. Can it become ritual? Can it be healing?
I started this work after creating large bundles out of all the personal objects in my life, a way of emphasizing the magnitude of individual consumption. In thinking about how objects came into my life, and their distribution via complex global supply chains, I was also researching their creation process and where raw materials are sourced. In parallel, I began to think about something much larger in this context - the U.S. military - and the massive resources it consumes and its unfathomably complex supply chains.
We referenced these supply chains on the back wall of the gallery with a monumental diagram that draws out the connections internationally between mineral mining and the U.S. military-industrial complex. First, I wanted to understand how complex and decentralized the entire production system is for objects of war. We can examine just one material, cobalt, to get a hint of this complexity.
The U.S. military consumes 62% of the world’s supply of high-grade cobalt, and because of that it’s considered a strategic mineral. Alongside the Swiss-based Glencore, one of the largest suppliers of cobalt to the U.S. military is China Molybdenum, a company that operates some of the biggest cobalt mines in the Congo. One can assume that a certain percentage of cobalt used in defense comes from the Congo and that when some of it is processed, whether in China, Finland, or Canada, it’s made into drones or other objects of war or surveillance in U.S. factories with government contracts. The material then returns to the Congo in drone form, for example, as part of AFRICOM*. These kinds of of connections and circuitous routes are continually changing as world markets and political situations fluctuate. The chalkboard on the back wall of the Gallery offers a snapshot of the current state of this very complicated system of supplying military operations internationally.
Since I started the research into where and how the objects in my life were made it has been impossible to ignore the systemic violence that goes hand-in-hand with anything mass-produced. Mineral extraction (at the base of just about everything manufactured) affects everything and everyone in its path: from contaminants in the air and waterways to runoff and tailings in the land to the ramifications of mining to life nearby. Moreover, parceling the process of production alienates everyone involved in the system from seeing its breadth, scope, and interconnections.** In all honesty, dissecting a military vehicle and renewing its form started from a painful personal experience, as I was grieving over and learning from a violent occurrence in my life. I was able to move away from the pain of that experience by focusing on a wider lens of systemic violence: how one person’s violent actions are also the result of taught and learned behaviors repeated system-wide. The violence of past generations is passed down in overt and subtle ways; the violence of war is brought home in the form of PTSD and other traumas; “free markets” and subsidies merge extraction with exploitation, and working within any part of a worldwide system of commerce based on a shareholder economy (often with little relationship to the goods or services produced) ultimately acts as a form of exploitation. When alternatives to such forms of exploitation have little place in a dominant system, violence directed at a particular gender, race, community, is not surprising. Trying to understand that was my starting point for this project.
What Happens After asks artists and activists to reimagine an object together. Asking performance artists and dancers like David Thomson and Shelley Senter to collaboratively respond to and re-envision the LMTV has been key to reimagining its possibilities: from sensorial experiences to strike a delicate balance of empowering an object’s history while reviving it, exploding it, playing with it, and informing a storied, absurdist experience - the object echos the life we may live with, be engaged with or distanced from fear, and may or may not want to address.
When performers like Benji Hart and NIC Kay responded to the transformed vehicle, the object complicated their powerful performances, working with and against it in unison.
Rather than trying to erase difficult histories, the point of What Happens After was to acknowledge and build from what is at hand. It asked me to question the unknown: What is the transformative potential that we may collectively possess? And if, in this space, we might transform one object built within a worldwide ecosystem of pain, can larger coalitions of people transform systemic violence?
Based on an interview led by curator Jenny Gerow in August 2018.
* The United States Africa Command, one of the combatant commands of the U. S. Armed Forces, responsible for U.S. military operations and relations with 53 African nations.
** As one example, an iPhone is assembled from components made by some 200 suppliers based in cities in China, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Germany, Poland, India, and many other countries. With respect to What Happens After, the LMTV was constructed from metals smelted and mechanical parts assembled all over the world, and brought back by ship to Fort Dix, NJ, in 2005 to rest in a vehicle boneyard