Art imitates death
Artist provocateur Scott Blake’s controversial 9/11 Flipbook
By Michel Cicero 09/08/2011
Given the subjectivity of aesthetics, the value of an art piece is sometimes determined by the answer to one question: Did it get people talking? When artist Scott Blake introduced his 9/11 Flipbook to friends, it wasn’t a serious project, but reaction to the tiny book eventually made it so.
Blake’s flip book consists of a series of images taken from film footage that creates an animated simulation — frame by frame, page by page in rapid sequence — of United Airlines Flight 175 flying into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
“Some people were shocked by the scene depicted in the palm of my hand,” writes Blake in the companion to the flip book, “but most were fascinated by the mechanics of flipping paper.”
When it became evident that the flip book was pushing people’s buttons, Blake decided it was worth exploring and began soliciting written responses to create a sort of narrative to accompany it, and to encourage constructive dialogue about the media’s role in sensationalizing the tragedy.
The moment when the second plane hit the tower (there’s only one known video of the first plane/first tower) was replayed relentlessly by television news media outlets until it was collectively decided that enough was enough. The flip book was meant not to exploit but to provoke — and provoke it did.
Some of those who responded to Blake said they appreciated the flip book as a tool for reflecting on the tragic events while others missed the point entirely, accusing him of being motivated by self-promotion or referring to the book as a “gross trivialization of one of the most horrible days in American history.” One person called the 9/11 footage a “3,000-plus snuff film.” Another said she wished she hadn’t owned a television at the time. At least one confessed to a macabre compulsion to view the disturbing images and felt the flip book could help better understand this reaction.
Last month, Blake spoke at a conference presented by the Internet Archive (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit historical library of digital data) and New York University that was held to analyze how television networks handled the events associated with Sept. 11. According to the Internet Archive blog, despite the fact that television is the most utilized source for news information, it is not the medium of record, which makes gaining access to the many hours of broadcasts aired each day extremely difficult. It did, however, manage to assemble the 9/11 Television News Archive, which contains 3,000 hours of national and international news coverage from 20 channels for the week following Sept. 11. Blake used the Archive to conduct his own study in order to further illustrate his belief that the media was also guilty of committing an act of terrorism through its merciless coverage. “The news did exactly what the terrorists wanted them to do,” he said.
According to Blake’s study, CNN showed the planes hitting the towers 109 times between 9 a.m. and midnight, or about once every eight minutes. The BBC showed the same footage 240 times, roughly 16 times per hour. CNN also showed the collapse of the towers repeatedly — 161 times or once every five minutes. Blake discovered that CBS was the first to show victims falling or jumping from the towers. In one letter, written to Blake by a New York resident, there was a wry remark about how, despite his close proximity to the towers from his rooftop on 9/11, he had a better view on television.
The 9/11 Flipbook has evoked anger, sadness, contemplation and fascination and garnered critical praise and straight-up criticism. Some people flip the pages slowly, some repeatedly, some backward as if to reverse the horrible events. “I know my 9/11 Flipbooks will offend some people,” says Blake, “but now that that I’ve created a project for anyone to voice their opinions and reactions, I actually look forward to reading their responses to better understand their side of the story.” Previously known for his Barcode art work, the tech nerd/DIY punk/conceptual artist has been featured in various galleries, The New York Times and on World News Tonight. He currently resides in Omaha, Neb., where he continues to make provocative art. The 9/11 Flipbook project is ongoing and he is still accepting written reactions to it.
For more information about Blake, the 9/11 Flipbook and the resources mentioned in this article, please visit www.911Flipbook.com, www.barcodeart.com. Go to www.vcreporter.com to view a video about the 9/11 Flipbook. A portion of sales of the flip book are donated to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, FDNY and the International Red Cross. The entire book is also available for download, free of charge.