Some of the decisions are beyond understanding: Why have a photograph of a section of wall covered with memorial fliers instead of a collection of actual fliers? Other choices are more troubling. Politics — apart from implying a de facto equivalency between governmental and media figureheads and rescue workers who lost their lives trying to save others — are skirted entirely. In the story-kiosk section, the only discussion of civil liberties occurs in the context of minor racism against Muslims — no mention of the thousands detained without due process. (To the museum’s credit, it will be screening 9066 to 9/11, a documentary exposing the parallels between the persecution of Japanese-Americans in WWII under Executive Order 9066 and the racist constitutional costs of Homeland Security.) I know that when you are speaking for the government you have to refrain from — how shall I say this? — implicating it in war crimes. Unfortunately, “September 11: Bearing Witness to History” speaks with deafening silence — tiptoeing conspicuously across a minefield of untold stories as soon as it strays from the unequivocal testimony of actual crime-scene evidence, inadvertently taking on an exploitative cast and hijacking the gravitas of the 9/11 relics for propaganda purposes.
It takes a long time to digest events as traumatic as 9/11. Frankly I don’t think our species has really taken in Hiroshima or the Holocaust. The continuing obsession with all things 9/11 is a sign that we are struggling to throw off the aesthetics of denial. Denial seems to be the art medium of the Zeros — whether it’s the Bush league’s increasingly strained game face or former Iraqi minister of information Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf’s visionary aphasia. This is social sculpture by way of manufacturing consent: baroque virtual realities cut from whole cloth and melting into thin air. Don’t misunderstand me — go see this show, stand in the presence of these powerful shards of history. Feel their weight. Cry. Just don’t let them lure you into being part of some one else’s story. Especially one with a tacked-on happy ending that says America doesn’t have to change its ways.
SEPTEMBER 11: BEARING WITNESS TO HISTORY| JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MUSEUM, 369 E. First St., downtown Through August 15