An installation in a small, contained gallery
Recently, a Black Hawk crashed in the Santa Rosa Sound along Florida's Panhandle in a nighttime training exercise in dense fog killing all 11 crew on board. This tragic accident struck home for me and was the catalyst for the “MISHAP contained” installation. My initial research led me to a government report that termed military training accidents leading to death as “mishaps.” This term, while technically accurate, connotatively contradicts the significance the events.
With the contained gallery space at Canisius in mind, I began to develop work that examined the monumentality and the triviality of the accidental. I limited my investigation to aviation training deaths, and then when confronted with both an abundance and a lack of information, limited it further to F-111 crashes. “The General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was a supersonic, medium-range interdictor and tactical attack aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic bomber, aerial reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare aircraft (Wikipedia).” Information on current day aircraft and “mishaps” is not easily obtained. When I spoke to a government employee familiar with the issue, I learned that to compile information on aviation military training deaths for public consumption would mean that weaknesses in our aircraft or training methods could be analyzed. Variants of the F-111 were operational in USAF from 1967 -1998; there are public accounts of each jet that went down.
As an oil painter, I am interested in the shifting nature of time, place, concept, actuality, and paint. With this work, I wanted the viewer’s perspective of a piece to change as their viewing distance or position changed. From a distance, the paintings appear to be simple landscapes – the viewer can take in the “scene.” From close up, the scene serves as simple color and the focus shifts to mechanical drawings of F-111 components. I began by carving wood blocks with blueprint information. I then pulled a reverse “blueprint” of the carving. I pulled only one, no second chances; this was to mirror the nature of accident. The reversed blueprint obfuscates the viewer, and while a chunk of the information is recognizable, the details must be carefully devised. This is much like the dissemination of information about a military training “mishap,” even to the victims’ families. After a print was pulled from the block, I used the same panel to create a landscape painting reflecting an F-111 crash site. The beauty of each location belies the tragedy– a place both absorbs and is indelibly marked by history. Some of the crash sites still harbor bits of debris, and yet were people to find them now they would no longer know the story of the downed aircraft and dead airmen. Almost to the point of the ridiculous, missing in this visual story are the men that died. Of the 115 airmen to die in F-111s, 94 of them were engaged in training exercises. It is the penultimate waste. The latitude/longitude coordinates are all the F-111 “mishaps” resulting in deaths (approximate locations). For each number on the wall, the earth was scarred, information disseminated and quieted, a community shocked, a 10.3 million dollar plane “written off: damaged beyond repair,” a squadron shaken, 2 families shattered, 2 men killed in a “mishap.” And it is all contained.