“Paths of Transition” is a five day performance where I wear an army uniform covered in speakers with stories of soldiers transitioning to civilian life, spouses experience being in the military, and news coverage on the war. The work is representative of transition to a new community which may be accompanied by a sense of loss; a loss of community and identity along with anxiety and isolation. The memories of where we have come from delays the acceptance of new surroundings and the creation of a new identity. I am a spouse of an Army veteran and this performance represents a transition into civilian life where I am engulfed by my personal experiences, the stories of other soldiers, spouses, and the media’s portrayal of the military.
The Uniform: desert camouflage uniform (DCUs), boots, and hat. The jacket has 53 speakers attached and weighs about 20 pounds.
Audio: Many of the soldier’s testimonials I have playing on the military jacket are very similar to the stories I have heard from friends who are recent military veterans. They value their military experience but they experienced feelings of isolation in communities where they felt like people did not understand where they were coming from. Many vets were confronted by others who oppose the war who assumed being in the military was morally wrong. Many vets stressed feelings of regret for leaving their brothers and sisters fighting a war while they were back in the United States. And vets expressed stories about feeling dissatisfied with the lack of responsibility and camaraderie in their civilian jobs. Audio of spouses experiences being in the military and comparison of military life to the civilian world also plays along with news coverage of the war and media about soldier’s experiences or affects from being in the military.
Concept: This work is reflective of the hardships people encounter when transitioning from one life to another, not just military experiences, but transitions experienced by immigrants, expatriates, and others who find themselves adjusting to new surroundings.
Day 1: Sunday, March 8, 2009, Denver, CO –
Today was the first day I ventured out in the ‘Paths of Transition’ uniform. It was extremely difficult for me as I do not have a personality that enjoys attention. I am actually prone to social anxiety and this has only exasperated those feelings. However, my first stop I strategically went to a location I knew would not be overly crowded – a nearby drugstore to pickup batteries for the speakers installed on the jacket. I received many looks but no inquiries. The second stop I went out with a friend who documented the experience in Cherry Creek, CO. An upper scale area with quaint shops and restaurants. We had planned on going to a very popular pub and restaurant in the area. Initially, I thought this to be a great idea to talk to people about the work. We pulled up front, camera in hands, a line waited outside to be seated in the restaurant, many were very ‘macho’ type men waiting with their wives, friends, and/or kids. They reminded me of many military men and women and I became incredibly nervous. What if some of these were veterans? What if they found the manipulation of this uniform offensive? I suddenly became very worried and questioned the use of a military uniform which says so much and is prone to some angry and/or very compassionate responses.
I convinced my friend to go to a less crowded establishment. I told her I wasn’t ready and for my first public appearance I needed to go to a place I felt less intimidated. We drove a few blocks further and went to a quant Chinese bistro. I received several looks but no inquiries until we were about to leave. An older gentleman asked if I was a real soldier. I explained to him that I was artist and what the work was about. He sort of chuckled and walked out of the restaurant with his wife.
Later that evening I spoke to my husband and told him about my experience and that I was questioning the performance. His first reaction was ‘I told you so’ – he had had many comments about the use of the uniform and initially it was very negative. But after further conversation, he continued to tell me that I was not doing anything wrong – if I was doing anything overtly offensive while wearing this uniform he would definitely tell me. That set me sort of at ease. But I am still nervous about day 2.