Why did this visual response come to mind when thinking about Superstorm Sandy?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: This image was among many that I submitted to the project. Its an old drawing of mine, so it was not specifically done for the hurricane. One of the main themes in my work is nature and architecture. About the destructive forces of nature. For the past 43 years I have made sculptures, drawings, collages that deal with these themes. They are big themes. Here is a statement of mine from the early 70’s that can shed light on my feelings about nature.
“Nature frightens. No slow early autumn walks in the country for me. Nature is a mother with a knife, ready to pounce on us without warning. Mountains collapse, rivers reclaim, skies open up and caves swallow. But there is also a beauty in this destruction. Keeping myself far away from all things that are natural is what I have a sweet tooth for. The landscapes of my mind reach out for other minds in beautiful acts of aggression.”
Why did Superstorm Sandy inspire you to write?
Poet Robbi Nester: I was responding to clips on the Weather Channel, showing the effects of the storm as they were unfolding. As a native east-coaster originally from Philadelphia who has lived in southern California for half my life now, I was shocked that these places I once regarded as safe from the sort of disaster California regards as expected (seasonal brushfires, earthquakes, landslides)were so besieged. My friends and relatives still live in these places, but beyond the personal, it seemed rather like 9-11, an event that turned the world I thought I knew upside down and marked entry into another age, one where climate change is an accomplished fact.
What do you think is the role of art in regards to real-world, real-time events? In other words, what makes a “successful” occasional or political piece of writing or art?
Poet Robbi Nester: Art cannot change or undo tragedy, but it can create empathy among people who were not affected by it personally, like those out here in Southern California. It can teach and it can connect us all emotionally, as well as healing emotional scars. To read or to write about a traumatic event can purge a person of pain and allow her to go on with life. Somehow, making this pain public can relieve one of its burdens.
Artist Ira Joel Haber: This depends totally on the artist. Some artists could care less about the state of the world or events, and are simply out there to do their thing. To paint pretty pictures and to make a lot of money. It’s also possible to be an abstract artist whose reality is about the object, how paint goes on a canvas, how to make a good design, how to make a good or even great painting. That doesn’t mean that these artists are not interested in the real world, real time events or politics, and they may separate their art reality from their real world reality and can even occasionally do a work of art that is related to an actual event. They can also be very political and socially aware and liberal (most artists are) who do not hesitate to sign petitions or take part in political actions. Then there are artists who are totally socially conscious and whose work is political both visually and conceptually. So then the question on what makes a successful political piece of art or writing like all art depends on the quality of the work itself, no ands ifs or buts.
Now that poem and image rest alongside each other, do you see your poem differently?
Poet Robbi Nester: The addition of a piece of art, a parallel response to the storm, deepens and makes the poem resonate more than it might alone. The red of the water in the painting (that is how I interpret it anyhow, red water with blue edges, crashing over darkened huts), seems to fuse elements, so water becomes fire. What generally gives life now over-runs the small habitations of humans, taking life.