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The year in arts 

Local artists' works foretell 9-11's far-reaching effects on the cultural landscape

As Watergate, Vietnam or the assassination of John F. Kennedy were to previous generations, Sept. 11 was our own paradigm shift. While its impact on our culture won't be fully understood for a long time, its effect was immediately apparent among visual artists who struggled to deal with the tragedy in their artwork.

Joe Peragine was just one of a host of local artists who confronted this history-altering event in his own artwork. He created a video called simply "9/11" for the group show What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding organized by artists Mia Merlin and Ann-Marie M. Downs at Art Spot in the wake of the attacks.

Peragine says Sept. 11 will inevitably alter his own work.

"It's impossible not to. I feel like my work is really tuned into what's happening in my life, so I can't imagine it not."

Artists like Craig Dongoski used their art-making as a public forum for treating the many emotions and contradictions inspired by Sept. 11. His audio work "War Worlds," which blends Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds" with a CNN broadcast of the WTC attack, appeared beside work made by some of his own graduate students in What's So Funny ... .

For Dongoski, the television coverage of the WTC attack only crystallized larger problems with the media. "I felt the coverage that day began a campaign of fear. Fear, simplification of issues and squelching alternative/opposing viewpoints is what breeds nationalism, and I feel nationalism is a very dangerous thing."

As to whether the events have changed his art, Dongoski, like every local artist asked, is unequivocal. "My interest in the artist as collective was reinforced infinitely that day. Myself, my work, are forever changed," he says.

While some artists used the terrorist attacks to bring political activism and a need for discussion to the fore, others set out to honor those who died in the attacks as part of a new, community-minded art-making.

Atlanta curator/artist Cecelia Kane, along with a small group of like-minded artists, organized "Project Nine Eleven," a memorial displayed at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center composed of 5,000 red, white and blue ribbons inscribed with the names of the victims of the attacks. The installation of the public memorial coincided, ironically, with the Nov. 16 opening of the violence-themed show Rear Window.

Perhaps the local artist with the most direct relation to the events of Sept. 11 was Alli Royce Soble, a painter and photographer who was vacationing in Manhattan on the day of the attacks. Soble managed to capture an array of images of the aftermath as New Yorkers held candlelight vigils in Union Square or illuminated Times Square signboards showed images of firefighters responding to the tragedy. Soble exhibited the work for the first time Oct. 25 at the Showcase School.

"My work has been affected greatly," says Soble. "I have taken old paintings and have painted over them in white to create something new. I pull [off] papers that were once on the canvas to reveal what was once underneath. It is a process of change within me and how I am changing my work."

Says Soble, "Everything has changed in my life since that time in NYC."

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