Reading the “Veterans Book Project” in Western New York

I am pleased to share photos of readers taken during the Veterans Book Project (VBP) exhibitions in Chautauqua County this November.  Two sets of the VBP library–fifty volumes, each written by a different person with first-hand experience of war–were exhibited simultaneously at two locations. At the Weeks Gallery we put on a full-blown exhibition with lots of support allowing teachers and professors to bring their classes to the gallery for quiet reading and discussion sessions. On average, we worked with one college or high school class  per day in the gallery.  SUNY-Fredonia’s Reed Library Lobby Gallery, hosted a smaller installation of the VBP library, which faculty across campus sent students to visit. One professor used the VBP as a focus for her Literatures of War class and Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk, plugged the VBP at his talk at Fredonia. Castner said that teachers all over the country are looking for recourses like the VBP, which puts the words of everyday veterans and Afghan and Iraqi civilian refugees right in students’  hands, in a quick-to-read format that communicated directly about the sobering realities of war.

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Facilitating reading and discussion sessions with student on my campus, I came to realize that today’s college freshmen were in kindergarten when the Twin Towers fell. When the Iraq War began they were in second grade. For most of them, the media coverage of US military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing terrorism at home and abroad closely connected with these conflicts has been a buzz humming in the background of their lives.  It felt important to work with these young people to try to pull the realities of the human cost of war into the foreground of their consciousness through discussion and debate spurred by reading the VBP library. My hope is that they left the exhibitions understanding some of the reasons why 21 veterans kill themselves every day and I hope that they recognize that this war statistic takes comes into being in neighborhoods where they live, not in some distant land.

Many of you may know that I have followed the Veterans Book Project by artist Monica Haller for some time. Haller built the library  between 2009 and 2013 by facilitating thirteen bookmaking workshops across the country, each with four to six participants. Before it was completed, the Veterans Book Project was included in the San Jose Biennial and an exhibition presented by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. In 2012 a nearly complete Veterans Book Project was presented as a solo show at the Nomas Foundation Gallery in Rome, Italy, and again in 2013 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Haller has been invited to speak about the VBP at countless colleges and universities as well as at  Pompidou Center in Paris. The VBP library is now complete with fifty volumes; Chautauqua County hosted the first two exhibitions of the completed work.

Thanks to Randy Gadikian, Reed Library Director and to Anna Stadick for editing this post.Thanks to Mark Kirsch for taking many of these photos and sharing them with me.

“Veterans Book Project” at Milwaukee Art Museum through September 2, 2013

As many as 100,000 people will visit the Milwaukee Art Museum this spring and summer while the Veterans Book Project by Monica Haller is on view in the small gallery adjacent to the entryway to the permanent collection galleries.

Now numbering fifty volumes, the VBP is complete. Seeing the entire library comprised of written accounts by veterans, family members of veterans, Iraqi-Americans and Iraqi refugees, on display at MAM, I was impressed by Haller’s ability to transform just about any space into an incredibly welcoming room for quiet reading.

At the “reading workshop” facilitated by the artist before the opening reception I read two of the new books written by Milwaukee veterans during Haller’s final VBP workshop which took place during the winter at the museum. Zach LaPorte, one of the Milwaukee authors, was a team leader with 2nd battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, an airborne infantryman from January 2004 to April 2007.  His book is a powerful rumination on the downright savagery of war and make it seem impossible that any soldier could ever return from war deeply troubled.  Roger Quindel chronicles of his experiences during the Vietnam War in his book dedicated to the more than 58,000 American soldiers, including his buddy Richard  Meighan, lost in it.  Quindel, who served with the 25th Infantry Division from February 1967 to October 1968 and was wounded in action, explained during the panel discussion that his participation in the VBP workshop gave him the opportunity he needed to research the actual events he had lived through, but had only understood as personal experiences.  Writing the book Quindel was able to trace for the first time the battles he fought in and the bases where he was treated for his injuries within the historical record of the war, allowing him, he says, to know what  happened to him much more fully.

Eight books in the VBP are written by Wisconsin authors. Hopefully the close proximity between MAM and the War Memorial Center (they share a building) will introduce Milwaukee veterans and their supporters to this remarkable project.

Opening evening with authors and artists. Mike Jackson (author) to the left.

Opening evening with authors and artists. Mike Jackson (author) to the left.

IMG_1122 Web IMG_1161 web IMG_1233 web

The VBP library-50 volumes.

The VBP library-50 volumes.

Quotes drawn from the pages of the library.
Quotes drawn from the pages of the library.

Haller, Zach LaPort, and Mike Jackson discussing the project.

Haller, Zach LaPort, and Mike Jackson discussing the project.

Roger Quindel putting his book together in the MAM workshop in January.
Roger Quindel putting his book together in the MAM workshop in January.

Milwaukee Art Museum | Pressroom: “Veterans Book Project” exhibition April 4-September 2, 2013

Milwaukee Art Museum | Pressroom.

Readers of “Scene Unseen” have seen numerous posts about Monica Haller’s Veterans Book Project (VBP) over the past few years. I am happy to report that the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is exhibiting the project this season. The entire  VBP library will be on view at MAM April 4-September 2, 2013, with the opening Thursday, April 4, 5–8 pm. Because I have organized exhibitions of the VBP and assisted with VBP workshops I have been invited to be a panelists discussing the project along side artist Monica Haller and  local authors April 4 at 6:15pm.

In my view the VBP is one of the most important artworks of the decade.  It is a library of 52 books authored by veterans, family members of veterans or refugees with first hand experience of American led wars. These books were created in workshops Haller facilitated across the country over the past four years. She worked with local Racine and Kenosha veterans in a workshop sponsored by UW-Parkside Galleries last winter and this this year she finalized the library with a workshop sponsored by Milwaukee Art Museum.

Wisconsin veterans have played a big role in this project – please pass the word about the MAM exhibition to veterans and others who would like to know more than they can read in the newspaper about war and its impact from people with first hand experience of it.

Too see online versions of books written by area veterans look for these names when you visit the VBP  library online:

Mike Jackson's book cover.

Mike Jackson’s book cover.

Mick Jackson bio page.

Mike Jackson bio page.

Page from Mike Jackson's book. Mike is a Milwaukee veteran.

Page from Mike Jackson’s book. Mike is a Milwaukee veteran.

Zack LaPorte's book cover.  Zack is a Milwaukee veteran.

Zack LaPorte’s book cover. Zack is a Milwaukee veteran.

Zack Laporte's bio page.

Zack Laporte’s bio page.

Nick's book cover. Kenosha veteran.

Nick’s book cover. Kenosha veteran.

Nick's bio page.

Nick’s bio page.

Spread from Nick's book.

Spread from Nick’s book.

Katinka's book cover. Kantinka is a scholar working with veterans.

Katinka’s book cover. Kantinka is a scholar working with veterans.

A spread from Katoinka's book. A spread from Katoinka’s book.

Katina's bio page.

Katina’s bio page.

Harrell Fletcher’s exhibition at Colorado College’s IDEA Gallery

Harrell Fletcher put together an exhibition at Colorado College’s IDEA Gallery focused on the college’s semester-long focus on the military in Colorado Springs. This exhibition featured video and photography by students and also included some quickly pulled together installations by participants of the Colorado Springs book workshope—the participants of the Veteran’s Book Project workshop.

These are shots taken at the opening of this exhibition with a focus on the workshop participants’ installations. These installations feature materials the veterans used in their book making process

display of Veterans Book Project

Monica Haller

Veterans Book Project workshop in Colorado Springs at Colorado College.

This week I’m in Colorado Springs observing one of artist Monica Haller’s  

Veterans Book Project workshops.

Haller was invited to facilitate a workshop at Colorado College by resident artist Harrell Fletcher, who is orchestrating a series of projects throughout the college that focus on the relationship between Colorado College and the local military bases in the city.

Haller is working with four veterans and soldiers: Isaac, Juliet, Joe and Ted. Artist Faith Purvey is assisting and I am gathering information for the article I am writing about the Veterans Book Project and helping out in any way I can.

Isaac and Juliet are two recently discharged soldiers writing about their PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Joe is a soldier nearing retirement and Ted is a veteran of the Vietnam war who is writing about intergenerational PTSD. Over the course of the ten day workshop these bookmakers generate content and form this into a digital manuscript that is published on-demand on Lulu.com.

Haller’s Veterans Book Project is a relational work that works. Haller has been doing these workshops with vets for a year and is half way to her goal of a fifty volume set of books that will form a library or archive of first-hand experiences of war. It’s a project that is collaborative at the point of production as you can see in these shots and it’s relational at the point of reception, as the library is exhibited in the form of a reading room in museum galleries and libraries.

See the project’s webpage:

http://www.veteransbookproject.com/

Veterans Book Workshop in  the San Jose Biennial during September 2010.

Last September I volunteered to help edit for a Veterans book workshop. It was an amazing experience. I learned so much reading the veterans’ stories and helping them get their rough first drafts into shape for a line editor. The process Monica has developed for making these books quickly really works. She has editors and designers working along side the veterans so that the work can happen in 5-10 days. By the end of the week the manuscripts are usually read to be loaded onto lulu.com to be  made available as on demand soft bound books.

Bookshop workspace San Jose Biennial.

Artist Monica Haller (right) working with Mary Anne Rich (left), one of the bookmakers.

During the “exhibition” period of the Biennial when the public is invite into the workshops and displays, Haller set up a reading room in the workshop space.

readers