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Kate Dodd, Building Epitaphs, a site specific memorial
 started in September
kate.dodd@verizon.net

Like many other people in Essex County, I found myself pulled to the ridge above the town where I live in South Orange, South Mountain Reservation (part of the county parks system), to witness a changed world on September 11th.  On clear days you can normally see the running crenellation that is New York City from several lookouts.  On the afternoon of the eleventh you could only see smoke billowing in all directions, and groups of people staring in disbelief.  There is something about that ridge, perhaps being up high, parallel to the island of Manhattan, protected by a stone parapet with the woods to your back, that made it feel immediately like absolutely the right place to be to face and try to absorb what happened.  It felt public, private, and sacred all at once.

I felt compelled to go to the Reservation each day that week, and felt better when I was there, knowing others had been and would continue to go there to come to grips with what happened.  Many people were leaving notes taped to the rock wall, flowers, photographs, and candles.  At night the contour of the stone wall was revealed in candlelight.  Each day the smoke subsided slightly, and I kept waiting, subconsciously, for something to be revealed.  I kept redrawing the towers in the air where they should have been, trying to put them back in order to understand that they weren't there, that the skyline had lost its focus and identity, that the fullness of people and life that was there was not.  I looked at the trees lining the other side of the lookout road, some of which are dead, and thought how much they seemed like markers of mourning now.  I remembered a photo I had clipped once from National Geographic that showed a bare bush with feathers tied to every branch as part of a Hopi Indian mourning tradition.  I thought of the rabbi performing the ritual tearing of my mother-in-law's silk blouse at her mother's funeral.

All these things came together as I kept experiencing the need to put the towers back somehow, to fill the unbearably invisible void, to know that what had happened was real.  I envisioned the outline of the towers resurrected where they belonged on the skyline, and then tried to refill them by thinking of each life that had ended and all the lives that each death/injury/trauma/job loss affected, but I couldn't truly sense the magnitude.  I felt a tremendous desire to do something with my hands that was both healing and futile.  I couldn't express myself verbally.  I noticed many other people coming to the reservation, reading what others had written, looking for something to write with and on in order to express solidarity, but not necessarily knowing what to say.  What people had tacked up was showing signs of wear and tear pretty quickly, which was disconcerting.

I decide to put up an outline of the towers so that they would stand where they once had been in terms of the view, and to gradually fill in those outlines by tying on torn strips of fabric with the name of a victim on each strip until I had documented every fatality, as a way of remembering them, acknowledging them as individuals, and comprehending the number of losses.  To take something torn and put it back felt right.  I wanted to see how full the outlines would get, how much could be 'put back' somehow, how much could the community insist on their presence and their memories, how much could obliteration be resisted, destructiveness refuted.  The more each victim is remembered, the more their presence remains. 

I put the curtain of deer netting up on September 15th, and most people looked at me quizzically rather than asking what I was doing, as they often do when I'm installing my work.  People seemed accepting, though, that I must be doing something in relation to September 11th.  I provided additional strips of fabric and permanent markers, as well as a brief explanation of my project and directions, which invited people to write down someone or something they lost on 9/11, or something that changed forever for them. I didn't get permission from the county government, figuring that in the current mood no one would seriously object to what I was doing.

What has been gratifying is how eagerly visitors to the reservation have joined in writing down their thoughts onto a strip and then tying it onto the netting, from every possible demographic group.   People have repeatedly expressed appreciation for having an outlet, an act to perform to acknowledge what they are seeing and feeling while there. Sometimes I find surprises attached to the netting - flags, ribbons, flowers, crosses, etc.  While there is still room to attach strips, the tower forms at this point are well defined and move in various ways in relation to the weather.  The constant movement of the fluttering strips, now against bare trees, is poignant; the view isn't as unnervingly empty as it was three months ago

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