In a powerful display on Monday, a group of artists arranged 2,500 paper cups full of water in Washington Square Park in an effort to draw attention to the deaths caused by unmanned drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen since 2004.
After considering the project for a year, leading artist Sonia Mena decided over the summer to proceed with the idea. The one-day exhibit was created on World Peace Day to emphasize the destruction wrought by U.S. drone attacks that have killed an indeterminate number of people.
“You can go days or weeks without thinking about the fact that we are fighting all these different wars overseas,” Mena said.
Yet passersby found the issue impossible to ignore, as the project was placed in a central part of the park. Mena estimated that she talked to approximately 1,000 people throughout day who stopped to ask about the cups.
The exhibition was called “Electroluminescence,” a tribute to the technology employed by drones to make them undetectable to the naked eye. The installation sought to make people walking through the park think about the visible, if often disregarded, impact of the wars the United States wages in foreign countries. A film about the project will be made using footage captured Monday.
Throughout the day, as the artists worked on setting up the project, many strolling by stopped to help with the cup arrangement, with some placing flowers inside the cups and reorganizing the design to create a more powerful piece. Although the creators anticipated some interaction, Magdalen Zinky, the project’s producer, said the level of interest surprised them.
“What we were anticipating was people asking questions and hopefully walking through it, standing in the middle of it,” Zinky said.
In addition to those glancing at the exhibition nearly 50 strangers assisted in the initial cup organization. Someone even rearranged the design to form a heart.
The project’s concise explanation, provided on handouts located around the design, and unavoidable presence led students crossing the park to pause for a brief moment to determine the role of the cups.
The exhibit prompted those who read the artist’s statement to consider the damage caused by drone strikes, whether they were previously familiar with the issue or not. Josh Kundert-Gibbs, who graduated from Tisch in the spring, said he found the presentation to be an important display to raise awareness about the issue.
“I think it’s pretty powerful for people who aren’t necessarily as aware or up to date,” Kundert-Gibbs said.
Despite the positive reception, Mena remains unsure of whether she will push the project further. Much depends on the reception of the film about the installation and public response.
“I really have to think about this piece, and if that’s really what I think is necessary for this topic,” Mena said.
Email Dan Moritz-Rabson at [email protected]