Art—Commemoration and Controversy

A recent interview with playwright Valerie Hart focuses on her new play Rising and Falling, which uses events surrounding 9/11 to explore the role of art in commemorating tragedy, and the controversy that this can often entail. Reprinted below is a recent article on this subject.

tumbling womanAfrican American Playwrights Exchange Interview with Valerie S. Hart, by Jaz Dorsey

When I was an undergraduate at Chapel Hill, I took a course in the Philosophy of Art. Our final assignment was to write a paper on the topic “What is Art?” I got an A on the paper, but that kind of bothered me because I felt that I really had no idea about what art was – and the question nagged at me until, in graduate school, I read a book titled MAN’S RAGE FOR CHAOS by Philosopher Morse Peckham. The subtitle of Peckham’s book – Biology, Behavior and the Arts – points clearly to his thesis: Art, like all human activity, has it’s roots and purpose in biology. Which lead me to formulate my own thesis – Art is the DNA of species memory.

Nothing has ever come along to illustrate this thesis better than Valerie S. Hart’s thought provoking new play RISING & FALLING, the current offering of Rhubarb Theater Company at The Darkhorse Theatre, directed by Trish Crist. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Hart looks back at the role that a work of art played in the commemoration and controversy of the aftermath of the attack on The World Trade Center. At the center of the play is a bronze nude statue of a young girl falling backwards, representing those people who jumped and/or fell from the burning towers. The actual statue, by artist Eric Fischl, was placed in Rockefeller Center, but was shortly draped over and then removed because some found it offensive and felt that the artist was capitalizing on the tragedy.

Hart fictionalizes this piece of history with her own work of art in which the emotional impact of the statue and it’s controversy resonates in the lives of three characters – the artist who creates the statue, a mother who believes that the statue is of her daughter who died in the destruction, and a Native American construction worker who was one of the workers who built the Towers -which he and his co-workers thought were indestructible and which he refers to as “American Pyramids” – forgetting and realizing that pyramids were tombs.

As the statue moves into the realm of its own mythology, Hart reaches back through the centuries to two other iconic female figures whose stories of sacrifice have endured through the ages, but raising the question – can we view the lives lost in 9/11 as sacrifice and as examples of heroism? How do we remember 9/11? What, if anything, did it mean and, above all, what role will art play in keeping 9/11 locked in the DNA spiral of species memory?

For the full interview with the playwright explaining her inspiration to write Rising and Falling visit:

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