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.

“Veterans Book Project” Exhibition and Workshop at UW-Parkside

Veterans Book Project Workshop at UW-Parkside

Jan. 20-Feb. 11, 2012

UW-Parkside is hosting the Veterans Book Project as an exhibition in collaboration with Carthage College Gallery, Racine Arts Council, the Civil War Museum, and UW-Milwaukee Special Collections library this Spring from March 27-May 12, 2012.

In anticipation of the exhibition, UW-Parkside is hosting a  Veterans Book Project Workshop Jan 30-Feb 11, 2012. In this workshop a small number of participants work with the artist, Monica Haller, and her team to shape books that will become part of the growing library. There is  still room for a few more participants. See the postcard describing the project and workshop below. This will be a small workshop with 4 or 5 participants. Please email me if you would like to know more about the workshop or if you know someone that should be contacted, briggsp@uwp.edu.

March 27 – May 12, 2012

“Monica Haller, The Veterans Book Project”

UW-Parkside Foundation Gallery

The Veterans Book Project is a growing library of books that Monica Haller is building with veterans, and others with first-hand experience of war. It is a growing library, each written by a veteran, enlisted man or woman, or someone closely connected with the current American wars (a spouse, brother, Iraqi civilian, for example). The Veterans Book Project is a flexible artwork meant to be shared person-to-person, exhibited in galleries, libraries, and schools.

This March and April the Veterans Book Project will be exhibited at five locations throughout Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee.  UW-Parkside Foundation Gallery (March 27-May 12, 212), Carthage College Gallery (March 27-April 27, 2012), Racine Art Council’s ArtSpace Gallery (April 5-April 30), and the Civil War Museum in Kenosha and UW-Milwaukee Special Collections Library during April. Monica Haller is facilitating a workshop with local veterans at UW-Parkside January 30-February 10, 2012. Contact gallery@uwp.edu for information. See Veterans Book Project website.