Public performance artist analyzes the cost of war

by Beacon Staff • September 30, 2009

all painters in post-World War II America-developed a form of expression through repetition.

By echoing images, techniques

and styles, they created famous images and left a mark on modern art.

Now, more than 60 years later, contemporary performance artist Joanne Rice displays an urge to express the present in her piece, "The Human Cost of War.,Artists like Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock-

all painters in post-World War II America-developed a form of expression through repetition.

By echoing images, techniques

and styles, they created famous images and left a mark on modern art.

Now, more than 60 years later, contemporary performance artist Joanne Rice displays an urge to express the present in her piece, "The Human Cost of War." She borrows from that technique of duplication, but in a completely unique way.

You may have walked past her any day this week, month or year as she performed her slow and meditative recital. Rice belongs to an artist group called Mobius, and according to mobius.org, Rice started her project on Oct. 7, 2007, and intended to work on it daily for two years. This Tuesday

marks the completion of her project.

Every day, sometime between the hours of noon and 2 p.m., Rice stands on the grass by Trinity

Church. Dressed head to toe in black attire as if she were grieving the loss of a loved one, she clutches a pristine white box. Inside the box are 100 small stones that represent lives lost in the war in Iraq.

Rice begins her performance.

She picks one rock out of the box, holds it in her hands for a couple of seconds, and appears to be reflecting on it. She then brings the stone with her on a slow journey, shuffling to a large and ever-growing pile of stones. She then kneels down and selects a specific spot in the cone-shaped pile. She places the rock down as if she is saying goodbye to it; she retreats to her starting point and repeats this action 100 times, moving no faster and treating each stone with the same respect as the last. The site should eventually

accumulate 70,000 stones-the number of people who had already been killed in the Iraq war by Oct. 7, 2007, according to iraqbodycount.org, Rice said in an e-mail to The Beacon.

Rice's performance piece is not the only response to the war we have seen in recent days. Graphic artist Shepard Fairey similarly took advantage of public spaces when he created large-scale posters

that depicted anti-war ideals and hung them on walls around Boston: brightly colored images of soldiers with roses in the barrel of the guns they hold and children with grenades.

Karen Finley, a visual and performance

artist who was Emerson's

artist in residence in 2007, displayed her discontent with the war in her piece "Nation Building,"

which resided in the Huret and Spector Gallery. "Nation Building" was made up of drawings

of political figures and events, an enormous rope noose sculpture, and a ghostly installation

of a printer that continuously spat out names of lives lost, both American and Iraqi, in the war.

Displaying political responses, themes, and ideals in art is not a new concept. However, Rice has something here that most others don't. She uses repetition through an almost impossible form of persistence and dedication. This is not to say that these other artists

don't care as much, but there is a deep impact that comes out of Rice's daily replication. It is a personal piece that an audience does not frequently get to see. A gallery can be walked through a few times, and a play can be seen once or twice, but knowing this has been Rice's ritual for the past two years is quite remarkable.

It is hard to know for sure whether Rice has kept up her endeavor by being at her spot every single day as she intended. However, observing her performance

and devotion to this piece, and judging by the number of times she has been spotted, it seems safe to say she sticks to her word. Rice declined to comment, but instead sent a very brief e-mail in which she mentioned that it is hard for her to speak on the subject. She signed it with, "I watch the pile grow and grieve, I pray for peace."

Rice's completion of "The Human Cost of War" this Tuesday

marks two years since the the project began. This piece provokes

so many questions about Rice and her work. Why did she start this? How does she find the energy, time and determination to do this day after day? Did she lose someone in the war?

However, the artist gives no easy answers. By choice Rice is silent-perhaps to encourage her audience to contemplate the issue at hand through her unspoken message and to sadly look on as her monument grows and grows.