Galleries : Cindy Kane : Concepts of art, war, journalism
Like with so much of Cindy Kane's work, "The Helmet Project" is a powerful intellectual statement as well as an artistic expression. The Tisbury artist's next exhibit opens Sept. 7 at the Carol Craven Gallery in Vineyard Haven, with a reception from 5 to 7 pm.
To create her new installation, Ms. Kane has taken military helmets and embellished them with what she calls the "paper detritus" of journalists who have covered wars in many parts of the world. The project grew out of her veneration of journalists, and she sees it as a tribute to them. She is an artist with an affinity for memorials: In 2003 she created a piece called "Artists Responding to War: A Conceptual Quilt."
After the murder of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl in 2002, Ms. Kane wanted to do something to honor journalists. The project is not, however, intended as a political statement. "Journalists can't take a position," she points out.
At a talk last week sponsored by the Aquinnah Library, Ms. Kane explained the Helmet Project for the first time in public to an audience that included Chilmark librarian Kristin Maloney, who had been her babysitter in Alexandria, Va., and Jane Barnett, a seasonal Chilmark renter who grew up with Ms. Kane.
"Journalists were our family celebrities," Ms. Kane says. "They were about the most noble thing you could be." Her father was a writer who edited an engineering publication, and like him, she has a reverence for words.
Growing up outside of Washington, D.C. made her acutely conscious of geopolitics. One of the seminal moments for the artist was seeing her father cry for the first time at the death of Martin Luther King Jr. It made her realize how leaders can feel like family.
Ms. Kane began her project by approaching journalists who live on the Island. Novelist Ward Just contributed a used airline ticket to Vietnam among other items, and Nelson Bryant, who was wounded in World War II and later became a columnist for the New York Times, donated wartime letters that he had written to his mother in West Tisbury.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
"I didn't specify what to send me," Ms. Kane says. "I had the audacity to write and ask journalists to send me their notes. They were incredibly responsive, although I did have a few refusals."
Each of the used helmets Ms. Kane purchased from military websites is collaged with the notes of a specific journalist. Most of the journalists who have participated served in the Middle East. NPR "Talk of the Nation" host Neal Conan, who was held hostage in Iraq, sent his notebooks from the Black Sea. There are also photographs, foreign currency, passport pages, band-aids, and earplugs.
At first Ms. Kane found herself embellishing the helmet collages with birds, circles, eyes, and other icons in order to make each one a precious object. Though in the end, she decided to let the helmets speak for themselves.
An artist who works conceptually, Ms. Kane had most recently completed a project called "Mapping Writers," in which she created collages out of maps and the notes and manuscripts of writers. The Helmet Project is her first three-dimensional installation.
"I had started thinking about collaboration," she says. She asked herself what icon could support the notes of journalists. "An empty helmet is a sorrowful image. It evokes the worst of humankind." Ms. Kane did extensive research, reading journalists' work and books.
The artist arrived on the Vineyard from New York City in 1996. She had been living with her Israeli husband, the boat builder and carpenter Doron Katzman, and her daughter Tova on a sailboat at the 79th Street boat basin. She would row to her studio on a nearby houseboat, taking her infant daughter with her.
"Art was always my identity in a family of four siblings," she says. "Not because I was talented but because I was passionate about drawing." Ms. Kane never attended art school.
A poor student, the highly intellectual artist and avid reader finished high school in three years by attending night school. Then she spent several years hitchhiking around the country, working at Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks.
"After my national park days, I moved to Berkeley, California, and worked at an art supply store," Ms. Kane says, "And I began making art." She stayed for 10 years before moving to New York City.
Eventually she and her husband decided they wanted to expand their creative life in ways not possible on a boat and began looking for a small town in which to live. They visited the Vineyard for the first time, making an offer on a house.
"The ferry felt right," she says. "We felt this was our tribe. It was a totally intuitive decision." Their second daughter, Nelly, was born in 1998.
The Island introduced Ms. Kane to a community of artists, and she found a soulmate in painter Rose Abrahamson. "Rose is an anchor for me," she says. The Island's writers also have particular appeal for her. "We artists are very into our own personal aesthetic. Writers don't have that limitation, at least not about art," she says.
Ms. Kane, who describes herself as one whose artistic nature is melancholic, has created 42 helmets so far. The project will be completed when she has 50, and it will be exhibited at the Cheryl Pelavin Gallery in New York City in March 2009.
Opening reception, Cindy Kane's "The Helmet Project," Sunday, Sept. 7, 5-7 pm, Carol Craven Gallery, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-3535. Also showing is "Romare Bearden's Watercolors and Collages."