The Walker Art Center continues its Moving Image Commissions with They Were Just People, a new work by Leslie Thornton now streaming on the Walker Channel. This chilling exploration of the purpose and repurposing of memory during wartime draws on oral accounts of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, and responds to artist Bruce Conner’s iconic film of the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear test, “CROSSROADS” (1976).
Thornton’s use of found sound — an oral account of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing — and her references to the atomic age come in part from her father’s and grandfather’s roles in developing the atomic bomb and the way in which culture channels feelings of anxiety, trauma, and culpability. Combined with a stereoscopic manipulation of the artist’s footage of the La Brea Tar Pits in California, They Were Just People is a meditation on the relationship between meaning and abstraction in stories of violence.
Thornton’s video is the third installment in the Moving Image Commissions, a series that addresses works by key artists in the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Collection. Previous works are by Moyra Davey and James Richards inspired by Derek Jarman, and by Uri Aran and Shahryar Nashat inspired by Marcel Broodthaers.
All five Moving Image Commissions will be available for on-demand viewing through May 31. Essays by Isla Leaver-Yap, Bentson Film Scholar at the Walker, accompany each commission.
Leslie Thornton is a pioneer of contemporary media aesthetics, working at the border and limits of cinema, video, and digital media. Thornton is known for addressing a range of charged subjects, from Orientalism to the exfoliations of war, and the disposition of nonhuman species. Thornton is the recipient of two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Maya Deren Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the first Alpert Award in the Arts for Media. Her work has been exhibited internationally at: Documenta 12, Kassel; the Whitney Biennial and MoMA PS1 in New York; Tate Modern, Serpentine Gallery, and Raven Row in London; and screened at the Rotterdam, Berlin, Buenos Aires and New York film festivals. Thornton is professor of modern culture and media at Brown University. She lives and works in New York City and Providence, Rhode Island.
Commissioned by the Walker Art Center with major support from the Bentson Foundation.