Apr 6

Repairing the World Through the Radio

by: Laura Kochman

We can’t wait for the Radio Silence podcast to launch on April 15th, and we’re continuing our countdown with another essay excerpt from the Radio Silence website. This rich, complex project has resulted in so much rich, complex thinking—read the excerpt below from urbanist and curator Stephen Zacks, and then tune in through WPPM PhillyCAM, Public Radio Exchange, or iTunes to experience the project for yourself.


“Repairing the World Through Performance,” by Stephen Zacks (excerpt) 

Since the start of the Iraq war, Michael Rakowitz’s work has regularly evoked links between Iraq and America, including reviving the import–export business run by his Jewish Iraqi immigrant grandparents. During the war, he attempted to ship a ton of dates from Iraq, its interruptions and diversions reflecting the course of the fighting and its aftermath. In 2003, he organized Enemy Kitchen, a food truck in Chicago staffed by Iraqi ex-patriot chefs and American war veterans. Then in 2011, he served a meal to high-end restaurant patrons in New York on plates looted from Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The backdrop to Michael Rakowitz’s Radio Silence performance—Independence Mall in Philadelphia, where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and signed—is therefore a logical conclusion to this trajectory of work, heightening the sense of misfortune in America’s relationship to Iraq and in the current sad spectacle of witnessing the destruction of American government while we powerlessly watch. Much of this work was included in a major retrospective this past fall and winter at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

The symbolic location of Radio Silence returns us to this point of origin, the birthplace of American democracy, with the pathos and anomie of mutually assured destruction. Having replaced Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship with sectarian factions overseen by incompetent American ideologues during the war in 2003, we created a new Iraq resembling the United States of today, unable to compromise on the most basic functions of making laws, preventing foreign interference, providing public safety, upholding the justice system, or equitably distributing the nation’s wealth. Behind the mise-en-scène of a radio show performed in front of a live audience seated on the grass, the Independence Hall bell tolls every hour, sounding a warning that our government is being systematically dismantled from within.


The readings and performances in Radio Silence never come close to achieving a sense of emotional resolution to all of this mess. We went into Iraq based on a sprawl of fallacies and misconceptions, and left in fit of pique and political calculation, having won little for all of the blood, treasure, and tears. The registers of sadness and cultural celebration embodied by Radio Silence never achieve—and maybe don’t aim for—any type of catharsis, but by bringing together veterans and Iraqi expatriates, the community-engaged process achieved a degree of healing.

Major support for Radio Silence has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Hummingbird Foundation. Project collaborators and partners include a host of agencies and nonprofits that work on refugee and veteran issues, as well as independent community-driven media nonprofits.

Last updated: Apr 6, 2018

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