A Written Account of
3 years + 360 hours + 107,594 + …
I wrote the following piece of writing as a reflection for my year-long actions almost a year ago. I told myself I would burn all the index cards and throw away the two broken printers, the used pens and the books. I only wanted the photographs, the text and my voice to be the evidence of my original work. Yet all the index cards, the printers, the pens and the books are still sitting in my studio …
November 13, 2013
[Note] 107,594 is the estimated number of Iraqi civilians who died from violence since the US-led invasion, as of October 29th 2010 (Source: Iraq Body Count). I want to embody the magnitude of this number by writing the information of the victims on index cards. I began this project on November 19th, 2010 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn. From that day onwards, I had been writing the cards at home every day for an hour. I finished a year later. Go to my website to view the documentation of the original performance, 107,594.
Is one year too long or not long enough? I had been doing the writing an hour a day, every day, for more than a year. All right I skipped 12 days. So I did it for 360 days or 360 hours.
I started this year-long project about 2 years ago and finished last year on December 2nd. I don’t remember too well about what I was thinking when I was doing it anymore. The idea that my memory of this daily action is fading so much quicker than I expected haunts me.
When I first decided to do this project at the beginning I wanted to embody the magnitude of the destructions of the Iraq War. To me 107594 is a number too huge and too abstract to comprehend. It is a number that could only exist on computers. I thought by writing down the information of the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war, I could somehow connect myself to this horrifying event that was so far away yet so real at the same time.
At the beginning the writing did help me understand the situation over there a bit more. When I saw a big block of victims died in the same location on the same day, I would look up the Internet to see if the incident was reported. I wanted to know more about what happened to them. However after couple of weeks, this project had soon transformed to one that addressed time and labor. This project had become a burden in my life. There were 2 days that I was running out of index cards to write on because they were on back order. I was thrilled that I had a legitimate excuse to not to do the writing.
Putting aside an hour a day for this project had become a duty to me more than an act to commemorate the Iraqi people. This project was neither about the war nor the Iraqi people anymore. It was more about me instead. It was about examining my physical and mental commitment in a durational work as an artist. At the end the only reason I still continued the writing was because I had gone too far already that I was not willing to quit. Yes that was the only motivation.
Sometimes I feel ashamed when I tell people about this project. I feel ashamed because I am using a topic that is so politically charged for my personal artistic development. If I wanted, I could easily exhibit all the cards by putting them on walls. They could easily fill up many huge rooms and I could make it an impressive project. If I wanted, I could also make a beautiful argument about the result of this work by connecting the cost of the war to the kind of time and labor that I have invested on this project, not to mention the amount of money that I have spent and its environmental implications.
But doing so would be dishonest and almost hypocritical. What I found out was that I actually did not care much about the people over there as much as I thought or as much as I wanted myself to be. What I cared the most was when I was able to finish all the writing. And this took me a year to find out …
December 27, 2012
Joanna Tam is a Boston-based visual artist. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including venues in York, UK; Istanbul, Turkey; Cusco, Peru; New York; Brooklyn; Boston among others. Joanna’s work has also been awarded Best Art Film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (2012), People’s Choice Award (Sub-Category) and Third Prize (Sub-Category) at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris (2009). She is the recipient of the Transitional Artist Residency Award at The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City and was the Artist-in-Residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York. Joanna holds an MFA degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Tufts University and has participated in the IPA Istanbul Performance Workshop with Roi Vaara.