In 2013, the artist Danh Vo purchased various personal effects in auction of the former US General Robert McNamara, one of the leading figures in the Vietnam War, for which he later expressed regret. This included a chair, one of two on which Kennedy and McNamara had sat while developing their strategy for the War, which Jackie Kennedy had given to McNamara after the President’s assassination.
Horror upon horror – Danh Vo dismantled the chair, leaving it without its seat and back, exposing the natural beauty of the wood while retaining the chair’s historical significance; the chair had become a monument in its own right, on display in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where Robert McNamara’s only son Craig spotted it. The importance of the link, in case you haven’t guessed, is that Danh Vo, although he grew up in Denmark from the age of 4, was born and raised in Vietnam and reached Denmark in 1979 after his parents fled in a hand-built boat before being picked up by a container ship. Thus, Craig McNamara’s and Dahn Vo’s lives are connected by the conflict in Vietnam.
The project “Cathedral Block – Prayer Stage – Gun Stock” on show at the Marian Goodman Gallery earlier in the year was a collaboration between the two and a connection between art and nature, through the transformation of cut-down walnut trees from an orchard on the McNamara farm, the wood brought to London, along with workshop tools, to enable the trees to be given new life in whatever way people who purchased strips of timber would want, whether it be new furniture, sculpture or other wooden objects.
This is sustainability at its best. All too often timber cut down will be burnt or shredded into chippings. Here the wood, with all its different qualities of grain, will be given a new and long life, with any profits going back into the farm and into other projects such as the Centre for Land Use Interpretation.
By one of those interesting artistic coincidences, elsewhere in London Ai Weiwei was showing his bronze sculpture of the root structures remaining from chopped-down Pequi Vinagreiro trees, symbolic of the destruction of the Brazilian rain-forest and the resultant impact on the world’s ecosystem at the Lisson Gallery.