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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Shannon Benine

SPE Member since 2005
Member Chapter: West

Means Without End

"Means Without End" consists of over a thousand 10" x 10" unfolded photograms of peace cranes, tiled together to form a large multi-media installation. The number of color analog photograms represents the number of American deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003. This piece examines this death toll, as well as the way the families of these servicemen experience loss. The kaleidoscopic, geometric pattern in dark reds and yellows evokes images ranging from bullet holes to Islamic screens.

A live video feed further complicates the experience of confronting the numbers; it relates a hazy image of Casey, an unreachable soldier. He symbolizes the vast gap in narrative rent by war, which tears life into a before and after that cannot be bridged. In the sacred space draped with cranes, far-off voices cry out as they undergo a mortar attack. The installation as a whole, entombed in the gallery, stands as a memorial to those soldiers whose lives have been lost.

The first incarnation of this work, showcased at Tacoma Contemporary in 2008, included 267 photograms that symbolized Washington State's casualties to that date. In 2009 it was exhibited in Chicago at the Chicago Photography Center, with more than 1,200 cranes. This project will continue, appearing in and symbolizing the losses of other states and of the nation as a whole, until it culminates in one large installation representing the total number of war deaths. As the toll mounts, I continue folding and unfolding cranes, creating a microcosm of the war. Because the cranes must be created in total darkness, making this work is a trance-like, meditative act; one that becomes less and less possible as more and more people die overseas.

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

Means Without End

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