Syracuse University artist uses everyday object to chronicle stories of apology
Syracuse University artist uses everyday object to chronicle stories of apologySeptember 13, 2002Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
At first glance, a public bathroom in New York City’s World Financial Center might not seem like a choice space for an exhibition of an interactive, multimedia art project. But, for artist and Syracuse University faculty member Anne Beffel, it’s perfect.
Beffel is one of nine artists selected to participate in the prestigious Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s (LMCC) 2002 Visiting Artists Program, which offers artists a unique opportunity to create work for a specific site in the World Financial Center. Prior to Sept. 11, the LMCC hosted the “World Views” and “Studioscape” artists-in-residency programs on the 92nd floor of One World Trade Center.
The public exhibition for “New Views,” a cooperative effort of the LMCC and the World Financial Center Arts and Events Program, is scheduled to open in the World Financial Center on Oct. 30 and continues through Jan. 17, 2003.
Beffel’s project explores what is perhaps the simplest but most controversial phrase in the English language-“I’m sorry.” The project actually began a number of years ago when Beffel found herself apologizing to a friend as they were riding together in a car.
“I wished I could get through just one day without having to say ‘I’m sorry,'” Beffel says. “A few days later, an image of a bar of soap with an embedded “I’m sorry” flashed through my mind as I was doing yoga-and the ‘Apologies’ project was born.”
The project has led Beffel on a journey to discover the meanings, context, human connections and power relationships that are entwined within the concept of apology. She began by jotting down notes about everything she apologized for in a tiny notebook she wore on a chain around her neck. That stimulated discussions about apology with the folks she met. Her notes grew into a diary containing the “apology” stories of others. She broadened her research by scouring books, newspapers and other materials for apology stories from recent history.
“The project has been a huge amount of work,” Beffel says. “Sometimes, it’s painful work. But it’s work that is important to me, that connects me to others and raises important questions about human connections, how power is brokered and how we relate to others. After Sept. 11, our connectedness and relationship to human beings around the world became more vivid and brought these questions into sharper focus.”
Beffel’s work will culminate in the exhibit at the World Financial Center, where 20 apothecary jars, filled with individually wrapped glycerin soaps etched with the words “I’m sorry” will sit on a 16-foot long stainless steel shelf outside the center’s first floor bathroom. Composite apology stories Beffel crafted from the experiences of herself and others, a few “found” stories, and descriptive text will be pressed into the wall among the jars. “The stories will chronicle apologies withheld, refused and offered relative to war, homelessness, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation,” Beffel says.
The exhibit’s location is a unique crossroad where the paths of tourists visiting Ground Zero, corporate executives and other business people, shoppers, service and construction workers, and the homeless meet. Before crossing the threshold, visitors will be encouraged to take a bar of soap and to stop, read and reflect on the stories. Among the stories, will be that of an African American child who refused to apologize for taking a seat on a bus, an apology made by a girl to her father for a racial slur, a dying woman who apologized for the shame of never introducing her lover to her parents and an attempted apology of the bombardier who dropped the first atomic bomb on Nagasaki, according to the artist’s statement.
“Through my interaction with other people, this project has taken on a life of its own,” Beffel says. “Yet, we know a project is an abstraction and can’t take on a life of its own. But the driving force for “Apologies” is the people who have shared their stories. I’m simply acting as their facilitator.”
Beffel teaches in the Department of Foundations in SU’s School of Art and Design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Before coming to SU in 2000, she held several positions including a residency at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York City, an assistant professorship at St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minn., and research and teaching assistantships in the University of Iowa’s Arts Share Program.