Duct tape as art of war

Heather Morrison/Chronicle
Jno Cooks Four Rivers installation is part of Terrorist Art: Protesting War, on display at the Polvo Art Studio, 1257 W. 18th St., through April 19.

By Michael Hirtzer
A&E Editor

Duct tape, the all-purpose silver tape, is finding its way into a surprising amount of art as of late. In response to the government touting the tubular tape as a precautionary measure against biological weapons, artists have incorporated it and other unusual items into their work.

The heightened state of awareness toward war and terrorism, both home and abroad, has no doubt inspired the work; after all, war probably ranks second only to love as a source of artistic muse.

At the Polvo Art Studio, a small gallery in Pilsen at 1257 W. 18th St., an exhibit entitled “Terrorist Art: Protesting War,” which runs through Saturday, April 19, displays a variety of works, all adverse to the war with Iraq.

Some of the works are comical, like Juan Compean’s “Terrorist, Death and Freedumb Fries,” a chalk-and-charcoal drawing over a screenprint on brown craft paper with three degenerative portraits of President George W. Bush. The first shows a funny-faced Bush saying: “Hey! Who sprinkled anthrax on my freedumb fries?”

The second has Bush wearing a suit and a cowboy hat saying: “Yee-haw! I’m gonna git me a terrorist.” And the final drawing has Bush dressed as the grim reaper, scythe and all, saying: “I am the angel of death.”

Miguel Cortez’s “Homeland Security Trifold Wallet,” is an actual brown leather wallet offering free duct tape inside. Cortez, a former student of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Columbia film student who designs packaging and belt wallet presentations for the Chicago-based Humphreys Accessories, said, “I’m just trying to be absurd about protecting my money from terrorists.”

Columbia photography instructor Jno (pronounced like Jon) Cook’s “Four Rivers” is a holdover from the early 1990s. It was made in response to the Persian Gulf War. Referring to the four rivers in the book of Genesis, signifying the location of Eden, Cook wrote in his artist statement: “We are about to bomb Eden back to a Paleolithic Age.”

Michael Hirtzer/Chronicle
Homeland Insecurity Variety Show participants show what not to do with duct tape.

Other works in the exhibit include a digital collage titled “Pax Americana” by Tomas Siebley depicting a human skull with old pocket watches as eyes and a large bomb as a body and Jesus Macarena-Avila’s work, which is simply the word “Protect” spelled out on the gallery wall in duct tape.

“The Homeland Insecurity Variety Show,” one of the many events included as part of Version 3, a multimedia festival held at several venues throughout Chicago at the end of March, aimed at exploring “current performance platforms and the theme of reclaiming intellectual property rights and appropriation.”

The variety show included performances by the Evolution Control Committee, which was basically a gray-haired man dressed in a white lab coat mixing breakbeats with samples of the rock band AC/DC and the voice of CBS news anchor Dan Rather saying words like murder and disease.

The show also included a session on how to avoid terror. Utilizing retro iconography, the session informed audience members about the proper steps to take during a biological attack or nuclear winter.

Likewise, the new government website, www. ready.gov, utilizes iconography inspired by airline safety procedure cards. The website, launched in February, coincidentally corresponds with the publishing of the book, Design for Impact: 50 Years of Airline Safety Cards.

The mission of the website—part of the Tom Ridge-headed U.S. Department of Homeland Security—is to prepare for disasters; “For Americans, preparedness must now account for man-made disasters as well as natural ones,” the website states. “Knowing what to do during an emergency is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.”

And while the website, created by a division of the New York public relations firm Ruder Finn Inc., more often than not states the glaringly obvious (one informs people not to walk into burning buildings), the low-tech graphics are visually appealing.

Perhaps war-inspired art—for all its worth—is best summed-up by an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Running through May 18, the exhibit is named after the soul singer Edwin Starr’s song “War.” The song’s refrain repeats: “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”

Search the Archives
View the Archive Index
Top Stories

We want to hear from you! Please give your feedback!