In the mid 1990’s a young art student was on her way to class. At Syracuse University the main thing that would hold her up from hustling to class was the snow. But in the few months when snow was not an issue it was an easy trip across the grassy quad. So when she stopped abruptly in her tracks, frozen where she was with no snow or ice in sight, it was because she had just walked into something unexpected and amazing. She started to cry almost instantly.
That was almost 20 years ago now, and what I had literally stumbled into is called Dark Elegy, by artist and mother, Suse Ellen Lowenstein. What I saw lay in front of me and around me, a few bodies clustered here, a few there, a body all alone, another, and another. When I walked through the space between them and looked upon their obvious pain I got lost in it with them. I am an artist, and so yes, art moves me, but I can say that no other sculptural work has ever had the effect on me that Dark Elegy has had. It haunted me – and it haunts me still.
Suse Ellen Lowenstein's Dark Elegy
The day I fell upon Dark Elegy I did not make it to class. I just could not walk away from it. And by the time it occurred to me that I had been on my way somewhere it was too late to show up. So I stayed. And I listened to the pain pour out of these figures, and I walked through the space they enveloped; they almost seemed to stretch theat space. My head began to swim and knew I had reached my threshold; I walked back to my dorm, back up to my room and layed down for a while. A long while…
In the following days I found out what Dark Elegy was and it bound me to the University like nothing else had – as a student, as an artist, as an American. It had been created in the 5-6 year span that followed the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988. The terrorist bombing killed everyone on board as well as 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland – 270 people, among them 35 Syracuse University students. One of them was Suse Ellen Lowenstein’s 21 year old son, Alexander.
Almost 20 years later, in the summer of 2011 I finally saw Dark Elegy again – at the home of its creator, where it awaits a permanent home of its own. It is not situated the same way as when I first experienced it. The women are not spaced over a large grassy area, with clusters and lone figures appearing as though they have just fallen there from some other world, some other existence. A visitor can not walk through the figures the way I did all those years ago, instead you walk around the group as a whole. It is a powerful and moving sight, and I urge people to visit this monumental work. You may even be lucky enough to talk with the artist herself and explore her other works. I sincerely hope that when a permanent home is found for Dark Elegy that it is placed as it was when I first experienced it. Until then it can be seen on Long Island, New York, and it is something every American should see.
If you are not familiar with the epic tragedy that began with the murder of 270 innocent people and continued through the release of convicted bomber al-Megrahi in 2009, and right on till today – then please click on these links and read on. Terrorism relies on ignorance and fear. Learn from the past, don’t hide from it. Recognize the ripples that course through our world till this very day.