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35  |   9–1–1
Wall relief in two parts, 2001
Painted wood
Each part 40 x 50 x 10.5 cm.


In early September 2001, ensconced in my new rooms’ splendid, if unwonted isolation, I took out the bagged sets of natural wood building blocks I’d bought in a toy store three years earlier, when planning a piece in memory of my father (which, in the event, had become an entirely different work: the suite of twenty-three pen-and-ink drawings WORKS AND DAYS). On the eleventh of the month, intending to continue working in the vein I’d struck in IDEA, I found myself setting out six of the cylindrical blocks and three slab-like rectangular ones on each of two wooden panels to form, in high relief, patterns of stylized dots and dashes, representing the letters S–O–S and R–I–P in Morse code. A kind of Braille for the sighted, or Morse for the deaf, I wondered.

I had the radio on that afternoon, and heard the first reports of the attacks on New York and Washington live, as breaking news. During the next ten days or so, listening to the BBC World Service’s blanket coverage of further “events and developments,” I painted this small diptych with the same glossy white enamel paints I had used for IDEA, giving the piece the title 9–1–1—“nine–one–one,” of course, but remember also that the first letter of our alphabet is A, and the ninth I, from which the classic Greek lament “Ai ! Ai ! Ai ! ” can easily be formed —to conjure the now infamous date, a sense of emergency, a call …  perhaps even the telephone itself. This description makes the piece sound decidedly more morbidly kitsch than it actually looks, which is, really, purely abstract—with but a ghost of the suggestive. 

With 9–1–1, I seemed to be off and running, rapidly making a slew of sketches for more “Morse pictures”: words to be spelled out, letter by letter, in wooden cylinders and slabs and painted in a variety of colors. Some were interesting in their own right as geometric configurations, however, most seemed pregnant with meaning, but little else, and were never realized.