A N N H O L Y O K E . O R G | A M E T H O D O L O G I C A L C A T A L O G U E O F W O R K S
42 | P S A L T E R II
Wall piece, 2003
Stained and painted wood
100 x 70 x 2.5 cm.
Less than a fortnight elapsed between the conception of the wall piece PSALTER II and its completion : a phenomenally short period of time—a sort of record, even—for me, whose work generally involves months of brooding and futzing about, before I finally begin to tinker with the actual object. But, here, the stolid contours of the piece were quickly traced from an old, rudely constructed console-cum-shelf that I had found years before at an impromptu flea market held in the shadow of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Church of Zion, Berlin (and which hung in my kitchen for a decade and now hangs above my bed, holding books). And, except for a handful of screws and a pot of light blue acrylic enamel paint, the materials for the piece came from the storeroom of my studio : uncommonly quick and easy answers to design and production questions that would ordinarily have required weeks of planning and revision.
But, as March turned into early April 2003, it was precisely by concentrating so doggedly on my work that I sought to alleviate the feeling of heartache and impotence, which had beset me between the proclamation of the “Axis of Evil” in the autumn of 2002 and the Invasion of Iraq only half a year later. For me, who had come to Berlin from the USA during the Vietnam War, in 1971, the shame I felt in the face of these new hostilities was unfortunately no novelty.
Wall piece, 100 x 70 x 2.5 cm, stained and painted wood, 2003.
Seven cream-colored capital letters define the work PSALTER II. Set upon a light-blue background, they form a decided contrast to the reddish brown stain of their wooden support, spelling out the words J-U-S-T W-A-R—a deadly serious play on the small word “just.” Of the phrase’s several possible readings, which range from a cynical playing-down of armed conflict as “just a war” ( war, that is, as nothing out of the ordinary, and surely nothing to get all het up about ) to the idea of the justum bellum, it was this last notion—the concept of there being truly good and fair reasons to cry havoc ! and let slip the dogs of war—that particularly gave me pause.
It was difficult for me to accept that—couching their arguments at times in terms worldly-wise or pragmatic, and at others in the passionate phraseology of ethical rhetoric—not only politicians and military strategists were weighing in on the question, and taking sides in the debate as to whether an invasion of Iraq might or might not be justifiable, but many sympathetic proponents of the world’s religions, too. In no time, it became abundantly clear that—no matter who was preaching—the Invasion of Iraq was not considered a just war, but just another war.
For, even assuming one accepts The Just War’s criteria—that, for example, a just war can only be waged when all non-violent options have been exhausted ; that the only permissible objective of a war can be that of addressing a wrong done to, or an injury suffered by, the instigator ; or that the peace which is established by means of a war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed had the war never been prosecuted—no amount of smooth talking was able to make the argument that the blow struck against Iraqi civil society in the spring of 2003 was morally defensible. And to speak of its having established peace was to dispense with reason altogether, and venture into the realm of the grotesque.
Outrage at the convoluted arguments surrounding secular and religious sanction for the justice of ( this ) war led me to make the second in my loosely planned series of ecclesiastically inspired liturgical notice boards : PSALTER II, which I originally intended to call JUST WAR. Not entirely answering to the description of an actual hymn board, PSALTER II is only very broadly modelled on the those of the Church of St. Nicholas, Leipzig—and that just as far as its coloring is concerned—unlike PSALTER I, which is a copy of the hymn boards in the Church of St. Mary, Stralsund, created not in anger, nor out of remorse, but for sheer pleasure, taken in the homely splendor of the universal mother tongue of Number.