Artist: Jezabel Storey
Location: Arroyo and Suipacha, Buenos Aires
Year of completion: 2012
Researcher: Gregory Door

To commemorate the civilians killed by a suicide bomber at the former site of Buenos Aires Israeli Embassy, artist Jezabel Storey combined video projection and a live piano performance. The projection, which remained lit from dusk until midnight, depicted a group of candles, one for every citizen who lost a life in the 1992 attack. The live performance featured Alfredo Corral performing Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

In 1992, a suicide bomber drove a truck of explosives into the Israeli Embassy, at the intersection of Arroyo and Suipacha. The building was destroyed, along with a nearby Catholic church and a school. 240 people were injured and 29 were killed, making it the deadliest attack on an embassy, and one of Argentina’s worst terrorist attacks. An Islamic group with alleged ties to Iran took responsibility. No one was convicted in the crime. The location is now the site of a small commemorative park, the Plaza Embajada de Israel.

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In seeking to commemorate the victims of the bombing, Storey, who is trained as a painter and is pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy, invokes the notion of a peaceful offering. “No words were needed to move the soul of the people. Instead, beauty and peace were offered in a place that evokes terror and desperation.”

More than 200 people attended the vigil, according to the artist, including both rabbis and Catholic priests from the neighborhood. Neighbors to the plaza opened their windows and looked on. Survivors and relatives of the dead and wounded attended the ceremony as well.

“The audience was captivated by the music and the image,” says Storey. “Survivors of the attempt and the families of the deceased were moved to tears and expressed their enormous gratitude.”

While no one would deny the families of victims of a tragedy of this magnitude the chance to grieve publically in commemoration of their lost loved ones, Sentido does raise interesting questions about the role of art, memorials, and grief.

This temporary intervention consisted of a large-screen projection of candles (the artist’s materials claimed one for each of the “22 victims;” in fact there were 29) and the reproduction of a piece of music by another composer. It would be unfair to compare such a small-scale, temporary intervention to well-funded, permanent memorials.

Yet it is worth considering Sentido in the context of other temporary, commemorative interventions. A good example is the Fallen 9,000 project, which enlisted volunteers to etch 9,000 stenciled silhouettes in the sand of Normandy Beach to commemorate victims from both sides of the war. That temporary intervention had several qualities lacking in Sentido: It was appropriate to the site; it enlisted the active collaboration, rather than spectatorship, of a mass of people; it made a unique and powerful aesthetic statement; and it challenged assumptions about the historical narrative of the D-Day invasion.

Instead of a pervasive symbol of grief presented in an un-ironic projection and accompanied by a well-worn piece of the Western musical cannon, how much deeper and more interesting could the project have been had Storey pursued the complexity of the event and the site? What is the significance of this event in the context of the three major religions represented? What does the crime say about religious and/or political hatred? What can explain terrorism—especially suicide bombing? How complicit were local authorities and citizens for this unpunished crime? An art piece such as Sentido or Fallen 9,000 may not answer such difficult questions, but serious, worthwhile art owes us a responsibility to at least ask them.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency