The military truck at the center of Mary Mattingly’s What Happens After, now on view at BRIC House, has been to Iraq, transporting weapons and soldiers in the first Gulf War, and then to Afghanistan. It didn’t kill anyone by itself, but as a military vehicle, was a conduit to carnage. It met an untimely end after the online auction Mattingly bought it from: Now it’s in pieces in the middle of an art gallery. Visiting the exhibition is an exercise in grappling with answering the title’s question — whether the new context neutralizes it, reclaims it, or hides the violence it was responsible for.
Mattingly makes viewers work for their own answers.
That I was looking at the guts of a military vehicle wasn’t immediately obvious. This is an exhibition whose power is revealed slowly, by walking through and around each of the torn pieces of the truck, imagining what they’ve been through, what they mean, and whether Mattingly’s deconstruction, made possible via a group of 12 artists, changes its meaning. By breaking the vehicle apart and placing it in a public space, did they deconstruct the violence out of it?
The first visible piece of the truck is a platform that once carried large weapons. In black and yellow, with wooden steps, it simply looks like a bare stage.
It will act as a stage in late September and October, when a series of musicians, dancers, and others will perform in the exhibition space. This use is not that far off from its original one — during war, the location where important battles occur is called a theater — but here it will host performances of a different kind. Mattingly explained her intentions behind hosting performers via email: “I wanted to co-create with artists and performers because I believe in artists’ abilities to reimagine possibilities together and separately,” and “to engage equally with violence and play.”
At first, the front of the vehicle looks like an overfed, cream-colored Jeep. It’s bigger than the average car, but nothing to be afraid of. To its right is a wooden ladder, hung with such imperceptible string; it hovers like a ghost. Next to it, a pair of green seats hang from the ceiling, swaying like playground swings.
When I turned my head slightly, however, I realized the door of the vehicle is also hanging from the ceiling, and tires are scattered at your feet. I walked through the tires and stood behind the dashboard, looking through the windshield, seeing the sand crusted in the tires. Staring out at the bleachers and the visitors sitting in BRIC’s cafe, I felt like a child playing at war — Jared Kushner on his Middle East tour wearing a flak jacket with his name on it, over his navy blue blazer.
By centering the actual machinery of war, literally bringing a military truck into a gallery What Happens After pushes viewers who haven’t experienced war to consider what that must be like, reminds them they aren’t exempt from answering the question the title poses. Whether they will seek answers to these questions depends on whether visitors are willing to get close to the truck. It’s uncomfortable, but perhaps it’s supposed to be.