Thursday, October 12, 2006

Artist's Peace Tower War Protest - 1966



















Click on assemblage to enlarge































Click on above article and fully enlarge to read text
















Click on photo to enlarge

I recently found a 40 year-old black & white snapshot of my first assemblage piece, constructed for the 1966 Artist’s Peace Tower in Hollywood, California. The Peace Tower was an early Viet Nam War protest 'happening' installed in a vacant lot on Sunset Boulevard. With overwhelming support, from well-known artists all over the world, the tower drew large crowds who came to view the 418 anti-war themed works. Susan Sontag spoke at the opening ceremony.

My contribution, an untitled assemblage (top photo), was made mostly of scrap cardboard, paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes, a couple of Kleenex boxes, two burnt out camera flash bulbs, some molded styrofoam packing material, a tray from a box of chocolates, and an old piece of chain with a hook on the end. It also included a weird sort of starfish shaped plastic wig from a monster figure included with and old Revell 'Big Daddy Roth' 1/25 scale car model kit (The Gasser) from the early ‘60s (something left over from my model-building early teens). This was all glued to a piece of approximately 2X2 foot plywood (the size requested by the tower committee), but I think mine was shy a couple of inches, top to bottom, because it was the only piece of plywood I could find lying around. Everything was scrap, all I bought was glue and paint.

The piece was supposed to suggest a scorched earth scenario, with the constructions of man, and the surrounding fields, laid to waste after some nuclear calamity. The entire assemblage was painted a lovely flat black except for one spark of hope, a fluorescent green chain (anything left alive would be glowing, of course), which symbolized the eternal chain of life that might, hopefully one day, regenerate a diverse living world. Otherwise, the piece was bleak, even the sun had gone black.

The large collapsed round tubes were meant to depict a destroyed city, and the linear cardboard strips above and to the right were the farm fields. The plastic wig (lower left) from the model kit was supposed to symbolize some melted core of something or other, and the sun is sending out black rays from one of the places where the chain is anchored. You can barely make out the fried flash-bulbs above the top of the chain, and below the hook.

Not very pretty or hopeful art, but we were at war, and I had grown up under a constant cloud of nuclear uncertainty, so I think it was appropriate for the time & place, and sadly, maybe even more so for our time & place today.

The old b&w photo was taken with a ‘50s Kodak Brownie, and shot in my buddy Charlie Melton’s mother’s house, where I constructed the piece. The assemblage was hanging on their living room wall, above the T.V. set, and the wallpaper was so bright that the flash over-exposed that part of the picture. So, in the touched-up photo above, I blacked out the background in Photoshop and rendered the scan of the faded 3 1/2 x 5 print with some brush tools to bring out form and detail, then colorized the chain to very near it’s actual color. The resolution is poor, but the original piece is long gone, and it’s nice to have even a rough likeness of it after all these years.

Above, I've attached a 2003 retrospective article, 'A Tower Of Peace On Sunset Boulevard', from the magazine Arthur (middle photo), which includes a picture of the 1966 tower, where I’ve red-circled a work that I’m sure is mine because when I brought the assemblage to the tower, the surrounding fence was already covered, so mine was one of the first pieces to actually hang from the sculpture. Eventually the tower was completely covered in scores of hanging artworks. At the closing of the protest, when I went down to pick up my assemblage, one of the organizers said he really liked the piece and wanted to include it with selected works they were planning on sending on a world tour. Of course I was excited to have my little cardboard piece selected, and agreed, but I don’t know if the tour ever happened, or what became of the assemblage.

Many respected, successful, and quite famous artists contributed works to the tower and I’m very honored to have been among them.


Much drama, including violence & police action, surrounded the Peace Tower event when overzealous patriotic hecklers, some of them veterans, became confrontational and tried to damage the installation, which resulted in the tower being shut down by the landowner just a few months after it opened. It was kind of a prelude to the reactionary violence that would mark Viet Nam War protests for years to come.

This year, the Whitney Museum in NYC commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Peace Tower by having the sculptor (Mark di Suvero) who conceived the original tower build a replica, and soliciting 200 artists to submit works for it. You can view the 2006 version of the Peace Tower, and the art that was created for it, by clicking HERE. I also posted the photo of the assemblage to the Whitney's 2006 Virtual Peace Tower page.


The bottom photo shows the 1966 and 2006 towers side by side.

Hopefully, I haven’t bored you too much with my---more than you ever needed to know---description of this old high-schoolish pile of cardboard & glue, as if it were somehow important today. But, I was just a kid then, and like I said yesterday, I'm proud that I’ve been consistantly speaking out in peaceful dissent, and trying to effect change, since my teens. It’s a big part of who I am and why Earth Home Garden came to be.


I'm still that kid, at heart, and the possibility of great change is everpresent, as are the wonders of Nature. Hope is much more powerful than despair...

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5 Comments:

Blogger Finley said...

Absolutely beautiful site. Thanks for sharing.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

finley-

I'm so glad you like our blog, come visit again.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Vivacious Vegan said...

I have been wanting to sit down and read the last few posts of yours and finally this morning got some uninterupted time. What an interesting article. It was very enjoyable for me to read and to hear your perspective. I think the author's comments in the article about how maybe, just maybe, protesters helped bring about the end to Vietnam is very thought-provoking. It's easy to get caught up in the "I'm just one person" mentality. I think I was born a few decades too late (1979). I would have loved to be a teen in the 60's. Can you imagine what our country would have been like if long-haired, peace-loving, tree-hugging, hippies had taken over instead of crew-cut, religious, right-winged conservatives? I wonder if we'll ever see responsibility in our government, people who really do care about the environment, factory farms shut down and the needless torture of animals stopped, reform of public schools, religion recognized for the sham that it is and rejected by the masses, peace within our nation and the world. I could go on and on and it usually makes me feel really sad to do so. But I will try to remember your words: "Hope is much more powerful than despair." And I will try to remember that sometimes one person really can make a difference.

Jim, as I've said before, you and Peggy are truly wonderful role models. If you ever don't think that this blog is important, please remember that you have enlightened me and inspired me in more ways than you can imagine.

I hope the next time I'm in Southern CA, you might be so kind as to invite me over for a visit. I'd love to meet you both in person and see the beautiful oasis you've created.

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