In Praise of … Guernica

Detail from Goshka Macuga’s tapestry version of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, on loan to London’s Whitechapel gallery.  Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Below is an editorial published in The Guardian (UK) on Thursday March 26, 2009. The subtitle of the piece is ‘Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life.’ This is the piece in entirety:

In occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: “Did you do that?” “No,” Picasso replied, “you did”, his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece. Work started weeks after German bombers had unleashed an early dose of Blitzkreig on the Basque town from which the work takes its name. It was first shown at the world fair in Paris, supposedly a showcase for scientific progress, but the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a small Spanish town proved technology’s darker side. As in Picasso’s cubist days, there are symbols and broken shapes aplenty, but with Guernica there is no need to decipher. The message is stark, with immediate impact. In black and white, the piece has the urgency of a newspaper photo. Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life. With the help of Stepney trade unionists, keen to raise awareness of Spain’s civil war, in 1939 Guernica came to Whitechapel art gallery. Next week the gallery reopens after an overhaul, and a full-size tapestry copy will form part of an installation by artist Goshka Macuga. It is borrowed from the UN, where it normally hangs outside the security council chamber. When Colin Powell was setting out the American case for war against Iraq in 2003, it was decided it would be “appropriate” to cover it up, a tale that offers a powerful rejoinder to Wildean quips about all art being perfectly useless.

No Such Thing as a Winnable War

I’ve been talking with some fellow artists about how to approach my next choreographic project… I’m trying to figure out how to tackle the subject of non-violence. I don’t want to make a cute little suite of dances. I know I could do that. But I want something more whole. I want the message to be in each dance, in each part, not to have the audience have to read the whole in order to get the message. 

I find in non-violence a very personal means of relating to the world. But I don’t want to do, like, ‘the autobiography of gandhi’ in dance. I don’t want to use text to make the meaning apparent, or song lyrics. So I know what I won’t be doing…. Possibly un-relatedly, I watched the Presidential debate between Obama and McCain.

I noticed that Obama has capitulated to McCain’s sense that ‘security’ is something that can be bought with war. One of the things that is so brilliant about Obama’s ‘refusal to support the war’ speech is that it expresses the understanding of a need to protect through through avenues other than the military. Including the military, but not limited to it. Obama is now just fighting about who he’d talk to, instead of fighting the bigger point – how do we make our country safe? He would win that one. I know a lot of people are waiting for him to lead us there.

Today was listening to Sting in the car on the way back from getting my oil changed…. I always liked this song, and believe that this war – in iraq, and ‘on terror’ are not winnable wars. We cannot protect ourselves by fighting them. I wish Obama would get back on message. I think he could do good, good things, but not if he becomes like Kerry, and Gore.



A lot of people have noticed that democratic candidates when they go to the general get soft. Gore, Kerry — they seem to think that to win the middle, they have to act like the middle. They’re wrong, as the Republicans have shown. The Republicans have been very effective about staying Republicans but being the better choice for the middle. They don’t pretend not to have faith. Democrats need to not pretend not to have ideals.

We need to ignore them more. Not affirm their judgement when they act like they’re mature, and we’re silly children – unrealistic.

What is the ideology that sets us apart? Or, what is the ideology that sets us apart that we can win on? Off the top of my head:
1. Security is about more than military
2. The future requires us to invest not in bailouts, but in development – energy independence by all means necessary
3. Don’t give money to people who don’t need it – no taxbreaks for wealthy
4. Country needs all of us – tolerance is what makes america great, what we are founded on

No-one is really prepared for the job of president. But I trust Obama to make more right decisions than the 78 yr old crab-apple tree and his town idiot sidekick. And I trust him because of his ethical/moral sense. Obama is powerfully intelligent, moral, and idealistic. Would some democratic staffers PLEASE figure out how to let him let people know that?