In the weeks prior to typing this first blog entry I was trying to figure out what the larger trajectory of this project was going to be. Thanks to Tim O'Brien and Craig Alun Smith, I think I have a clue. There are many ways for me to enter this newest War Art project, but the question, "who do I make this for?" remains central. There are allegiances at play here, not least of which is artvsarmy, craftvscontent. Of course it's not a versus, but here I go, trying to have it all.
Wilfred Owen stated he wrote poems about being a soldier in WWI with the principal goal of attempting to explain warfare as he knew it. The craft of poetry was the means to that end, a methodology to describe the indescribable, the best way to externalize what had come from the world and had hunkered down inside himself (and would end up killing him at the age of 25). So, yes, as I begin this project, the balance between craft and content (and their interchangeability) is front and foremost.
In "The Things They Carried" O'Brien talks about how his young daughter wonders why he continued to write about his experience as a grunt in Vietnam, a period 20 years in his past. A similar situation confronts me. As a purely peace-time grunt, my service contained little of what might be considered worthy of 2 decades of holding on. Indeed, 10 years ago I was well and clear of The Army. In 2005 though I was accepted in The Canadian Forces Artist Program, and in the intervening 6 years it has brought me closer and closer to that which I ran from so hard in '92. And when I say closer, I don't necessarily mean the idea of the soldier or the theories related to infantry society. I mean the smell of diesel and cordite, the texture of IMP rations, the absolute anonymity of army coffee and the binge-and-purge tempo of a combat battalion in the field. I've chosen to participate for both self-serving and altruistic reasons... but the sum total of this endeavour is that even as the years accumulate I also feel closer to being a soldier than I have since that headlong rush to escape. (And it has come at a price)
On April 08, 2011 I flew from my home in Toronto to Calgary AB, then boarded a bus to CFB Suffield AB. Most often described through derisive terms, the village (seems too quaint a term, but gives a sense of scale) of Suffield is bleak and minimal – a single large trailer sits by Hwy. 1, holding the restaurant and variety store that services a cluster of pre-fab and mobile homes – but the training area is massive. At 2619 sq. km of badlands it goes on and on.
The trip to Suffield was the beginning of my second round of activity with The Canadian Forces Artist program, a project which should see me to Kabul (perhaps also Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif) by year's end. More specifically and saliently, I am following various groups from 3PPCLI as they begin their deployment on Roto 0 of Canada's Training mission to Afghanistan. It's no coincidence that The Third is my old battalion as I made a specific request through CFAP to "go home again". It's been 2 decades since I got out and this was my first contact with the battalion.
What's to come is a consideration and depiction of those facts but also an attempt to gain some sense of war art's potential and purpose: Its role as an official project for the government of the nation I call home, how such work can find its way to those who might gain something from it and, yep, a goal of clarifying whom I am actually making this work for... other than myself.