Sunday, June 09, 2002
Wow, what an action-packed few days this has been. I am weary to the bone, but the conference was really interesting. It was very poorly attended, which is too bad, because there were some amazing speakers. Sometimes I wish I could just round up Americans at random and make them listen to this stuff.
We got in to New York hyper late on Wednesday because of the weather, and the cab driver did not really seem to know how to get us to the East Village from LaGuardia. I didn't like the place we were staying, and have extracted (another) promise from Catherine that we will get a real hotel next time. This makes two weird places we've stayed, and I'm done with that. It never really felt private enough.
Thursday, we dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the Village. Walked along Christopher Street, spent $119 on books in the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. It's sad that Barnes and Noble has completely displaced the independent book sellers in Manhattan. I don't know, maybe the B&N in the Village has a better selection than the one here, but I'd rather give my money to Oscar Wilde. They had a really good selection (compared to here), and it was nice to just be able to stand and browse. Had an excellent iced mocha on Christopher Street, wish I could remember the name of the place.
Thursday evening was the opening reception for the conference, held at the
Friday morning, we went back to Ground Zero. It was much more peaceful, the pit is almost empty, they are rebuilding the subway station, etc. It was good to see something so clean after what we saw there last fall, a kind of pyschological closure. Of course, today we learn that more bodies have been recovered from the buildings next to the site, so I guess it just never ends, but it did feel good to at least see the end of the WTC site clean-up. I am a little depressed by the idea that patriotism (nationalism?) has become shorthand for Christianity. The Iron Cross did little to move me emotionally, maybe I've done all my crying, but also, the symbol of the cross does very little to me at any time. All it is is an empty symbol for me, so seeing it at the site didn't really upset me like it did some others. The words written on the border of a flag upset me more--a few lines to "Jimmy and Dad" (I think those were the names), saying that they had hoped to find them there, but they know the people who didn't find them were trying their best and they were holding on to that...
Mostly, the trip to Ground Zero was peaceful, a nice bookend to my trip there last November.
So, the conference. Wow, the conference. Bruce Cole didn't impress me at all, but of course, I hate him anyway, so nothing he could say would impress me. The music by Josh White, Jr. was really nice, and reminded me of all those Flirtations albums I can't stand to listen to because it's all to painful, reminding me of hate, politics, AIDS, everything that was so hard ten years ago...
1) The first great talk was by Brian Michael Jenkins, undoubtedly the most expert person on terrorism I have ever seen. He's a senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, so I wasn't sure what his politics were (I guess I shouldn't judge people be whether they were Green Berets or not, huh?), but he was absolutely fascinating, and very rational. He said one or two things with which I didn't agree, but had some really good points. The best one I thought was:
There is an affinity between the people who build things like the WTC and the people who destroy them. The impulse to build is the exact same thing as the impulse to destroy. It is symbolic. Yamasaki and Atta agreed on the symbolic values of the WTC, and that is perhaps something we should think about. Talked about the WTC as the Venice of today.
He told us some of the coolest stuff. Mohammed Atta was trained as an urban planner, the WTC destruction was his plan, not bin Laden's. He grew up in Cairo, in Giza, and out of his window he could not see the pyramids because they were blocked by these two buildings that looked just like the WTC. Just before he carried out his plan, he went back to Germany to finish his disseration (!) on the preservation of traditional Islamic neighborhoods against their destruction by the forces of global capitalism. Jenkins main point here was--you can't order someone to kill themselves, they have to be already willing, and Atta was. He was pursuing a utopian vision of the 7th c. caliphate, the height of Islamic culture. If you can offer them the 7th c. caliphate, tell them if they embrace muscular jihad they will obtain it, but the obstacle in the way is the West...then they will kill themselves. If you can destroy the U.S., demoralize it, destroy its culture, you can recreate the caliphate.
Jenkins also talked about a fundamental change in terrorism. In the 70s and 80s, it was easier to deal with and understand. The terrorists were pursuing political objects and they did in fact try not to kill too many people lest they jeopardize their political success. In the 90s, it began to change. Two engines of conflict, religion and ethnic hatreds. So long as there is religion, the mandate of God, then all the conventional morality constraints against murder and destruction are moot. We've reached the point of large-scale, indiscriminate violence.
1970s--fatalities = 10s
1980s--fatalities = 100s
2001--fatatilities = 1000s
We are moving into a realm of terrorist where the intent is massive death and destruction. To obliterate culture, icons. They are not making aesthetic judgements, but political. Ideas of appropriate targets have changed, looking for immediately recognizable targets. On the list: Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, McDonald's.
Still, to avoid being killed by a terrorist while traveling by air, the trick is to drive carefully to the airport. You have a 1:17000 chance of being murdered (if murdered, a 1:4 chance the killer will be a family member or close friend), a 1:7000 chance of dying in a car wreck, a 1:100,000 chance of being killed by a terrorist (using WTC numbers), or a 1:1,000,000s chance of being killed by a terrorist (using pre-WTC numbers).
Jenkins recommended two books: Divided We Stand (about the WTC), and How Did This Happen (about 9/11 in general).
Excellent talk, I was skeptical before he started to speak, but it was one of the best of the weekend. My only real problem with his talk was the point were he constructed domestic terrorists (Timothy McVeigh, for instance) as essentially benign, and international terrorists as essentially dangerous. I'm not sure I agree that militia-based, U.S.-grown terrorists are harmless.
2) James Ingo Freed, architect of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., gave a paper on resisting the temptation to let terrorism force us into building bunker-style architecture. It was interesting, but I didn't take notes because I had to listen so attentively. I wanted to ask him why interior spaces of buildings would become more particularized as a response to terrorism. I got the other points he was making about curtain walls, jersey barriers, etc., but I'm not sure why the interior space would be collapsed.
3) Bonnie Burnham gave a really neat talk about world monuments in an age of uncertainty, and it was rather optimistic as she focused on Angkor in Cambodia and Mostar in Bosnia as sites that were being successfully rehabilitated after destruction/neglect. She had an interesting point about the Hague Convention and the refusal to ratify it by the U.S. We were thinking of war in terms of nuclear disaster, so we didn't think it had any bearing on reality. The fact that we continue to participate in conventional warfare has forced us to reconsider the Hague Convention. The bad part about the convention is--they mark the buildings that should be preserved, and if you've moved out of ideology and into the idea of religious intolerance, you're going to ignore those marks, or use them to decide which buildings to destroy. Even conventional warfare no longer follows the conventional constraints of morality.
An interesting thing she noted was that the World Monument Watch was funded by American Express. The sites that are saved/rescued/rehabilitated are usually done so because AmEx sees potential tourism dollars from them.
4) John Belle gave a short paper on preservation and design of culturally important spaces, focused on his firm's work on the renovation of Grand Central Station.
5) Another RAND guy, Kevin Lewis, also talked, the key point of his talk being "it pays to attack Rosie the Riveter rather than G.I. Joe." In other words, his talk was on the process of making the "homefront" a legitimate target. In the margin of my notes for this talk, I have written "he's crazy. Either that, or he's brilliant. I'm not sure which," which made Catherine laugh.
6) William S. Dudley, director of the Naval Historical Center, gave an update on the state of his collection. Because of increased security at his site, the collection is no longer accessible to the public. So, his talk focused on how to make a national collection accessible even though it is housed in a secure area--do you do it digitally? Do you move it? What do you do? How do you protect art in a military environment?
7) The chief curator of the Musee d'Orsay gave a lecture on transforming a culturally important site into a functioning museum. I think this was interesting (Catherine thought so), but I was exhausted, and also I've never been to the Musee d'Orsay, so I had some trouble keeping my eyes open.
8) One of the best talks was given by Bartholomew Voorsanger, a principal at Voorsanger and Associates, Architects. All I can say is: it sucks to be him. It fell to him to crawl through the rubble of the WTC, the Fresh Kills landfill, and the scrap metal processing sites to mark things for preservation for a future memorial. He was contaced by the Port Authority a couple of days after 9/11, and although there were originally three people tapped for the job, it eventually fell to him to try and decide what kind of materials needed to be preserved for museums, etc. They had *2 days* to come up with a full plan of what to save, how to save it, why to save it, etc. I wish I had a copy of his report, it's probably 1000s of pages thick by now, but my god, what work. Here's a here's another one. It was so fascinating I forgot to take notes, but I doubt I'll forget it.
The reception Friday night was at the Morgan Library, but I was so tired, I can't say I really even enjoyed it. I know I definitely didn't enjoy walking through Spanish Harlem to get to a subway station so we could get to the library. We left after about 20 minutes and went back to the East Village. Had pierogi for dinner at this great Ukrainian place, Veselka.
Saturday morning, returned to Veselka for breakfast (open 24 hours!). Today's talks were more on the practical side of things, and again, I can't stress how fantastic this conference line-up was. Everyone should have to listen to these people talk.
1) The first panel talk was by Robert Ducibella, Robert Smilowitz, and Robert Benazzi (the Bobs), and really went into the details of designing architecture to withstand terrorist assault. The handout they gave out was 50 or 60 pages long, so I'm not going to retype it here. But the three of them together were great--a security consulting engineer, a structural and explosion protection engineer, and mechanical/electrical and plumbing engineer. All very articulate and just all around bright. They talked about current explosive capabilities, safety zones, safetey designs, weapons detection, parcel inspection, glazing, doors, HVAC, etc. Lots of explosion models, lots of real life examples (from Oklahoma, for instance). Best use of PowerPoint I've seen to date. It was a detailed presentation of all the things we could do with our buildings, but yet didn't have that panicked, scare-mongering tone to it.
As an aside, almost everyone poked fun at the Bush administration's warning system this weekend, even the people from the government!
2) Dorit Straus, from Chubb Insurance, gave an update on the state of insurance after 9/11. She explained the differences between insurance companies, insurance brokers, and re-insurers. She talked about the $50 billion loss the insurance industry took from the WTC attack, and told us how the industry had changed. The short version: insurance prices will climb. However, she gave us the detailed version, and her handout was good in that it broke out the state of the market prior to 9/11, the fine art insurance "players," the state of the market after 9/11, terrorism coverage in the private insurance industry, the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program, and an update on shipping and transit. Great to see so many people outside of art historians talking at an art conference, so many new perspectives.
3) Walter Butz gave an update on the changes of shipping and transit of art after 9/11 from a European perspective. Basically, everyone went crazy and it was a big pain in the butt.
4) Jim J. Lucy, former Secret Service man, now in charge of protecting the art at the National Gallery, gave an excellent lecture on the National Gallery's position in pre and post 9/11 times. It was really neat to hear about how they handled 9/11 being right on the mall, and knowing (as a former Secret Service agent) that 80% of the information anyone gets during a disaster is wrong. They had to decide what to do with employees, visitors, objects, etc., all based on information he knew would probably be wrong. Talked about the importance of emergency procedure manuals (the National Gallery had one, but no one knew where it was), practical things like offsite storage of employee phone numbers. Talked about what they were going to do for security in the future in contrast to what was happening at the Smithsonian. Very funny guy.
We had to miss the last couple talks because of needing to get back and get our luggage and go to the airport. We walked to lower Manhattan (well, we walked 70 blocks, we needed to walk 100 but decided to take the subway the last 30 in the interest of my feet).
Overall, I thought the conference was excellent. The organization wasn't all that great, the time wasn't handled well, the transportation wasn't handled very well, but the speakers were excellent. They really got some top notch presenters, and I wish I could eat dinner with them all, one by one, so I could grill them. I wouldn't have expected to have any affinity for a retired Secret Service agent, but I found myself really tuning into what he was saying. Again, I wish I could have dragged some other people with me to listen to this, there is so much to think about, and I know Catherine is already tired of hearing me ramble endlessly about it all.
Posted by JR at 8:01 PM