COMPLETION DATE:2010 SIZE:84" x 34" x 38" MATERIAL:Wood, Sand, and Yarn

The Work of Curtis James Miller
Not too many people would assume the military as a whole would have a creative mind, and in many ways I would agree.   However in many scenarios I would disagree and most of these revolve around the Marine Corps.  To better explore this, look at the role the MC plays in modern warfare.  The Marines are typically the first ones in leading the assault into places few have seen or heard of before.  In WWII, the European theater was largely army fighting in countries with terrain and environments no different from ours.  The Pacific theater, where the Marine Corps was sent, was the tropical jungles of Guam, Guadalcanal, and the Japanese Islands; inhabited almost solely by their military forces.  Creative thinking has always been an asset for militaries that face such unknowns.  Moving forward in time, the marines were responsible for navigating the jungles and rivers of Vietnam and Cambodia, some of which never before seen by modern man.  Next, they went into the desert; Africa, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  These were all unknown terrains and cultures that took a great deal of creative thinking and planning to operate in and around.  To create a plan for massive military operations and movements, as well as for the small units there on the ground, the military creates “sand tables” which allow leaders to form a clear picture of what each situation in a given area might have in store.

The sand table is used primarily as a military tool to prepare units for a variety of missions ranging from invasions into unknown cities or terrain, to explaining routes used for assaults, to evacuations.   These are usually built near the objective point at a secure location. They are made from indigenous and organic material collected from around the area or, of whatever is carried on your person.  For larger objectives with adequate topographical maps one would make the sand table to an exact scale.   This increases the use of the table when using a military 10 digit land navigation system.  The three dimensional quality of a sand table helps small unit leaders understand the terrain and their objective clearer, with the hope of having the level of comfort of a new location increased.  Despite there being very few who will ever actually build a table themselves, all troops will frequently use it.  From the highest ranking generals moving regiments and battalions consisting of thousands of troops, to four man fire teams receiving there patrol brief, all will view the route and mission statement via the sand table.

The building of sand tables goes back as far as organized warfare itself.  This procedure has always stuck out to me as an interesting art form.  When well executed, it can significantly improve performance in the mission, as well as significantly aid to the clarity of orders and the mission.  But no one views it as something more than a tool, the hard work is acknowledged, and the more artistic troops are assigned to carry out the modeling.  Despite the attention to detail, and time spent on some of the more elaborate tables, the notion of it being an art form is rarely verbalized.  Building a sand table in the same manner as in the field and then putting it in a gallery changes the context; for one, its level of importance diminishes.  It’s no longer a tool and has no function as such.  The removal of the environment and purpose is similar to a collection of weapons of war such as swords or guns, being on display in a home or a museum as an art form.  A sand table is a tool used for war, and it is a craft which is usually not appreciated by persons outside the military as anything significant.

The theme of this installation is communication.  Many artists strive to communicate their intentions, be it political, emotional, or a simple need to share something beautiful through artwork.   This is no different; a sand table is a tool of communication created by artistically minded people.  The institution of the military here is removed and the work is placed in a viewing space so it is allowed to freely speak for itself as a craft, with reminders of its military uses displayed around it (so as to not lose sight of which the actual creators of such works are).  The process for this particular table combines many things.  Concerning its level of detail, this is not an expedient variation, nor is it an extremely detailed version, this one meets in the middle.    The materials used are also a compromise; some objects can be found typically in the current theater of operations depicted by the reference maps, specifically Iraq.  These are, sand (being the most obvious), scrap woods, and paper.  Other material used is found within the space that is referenced, which in this case is this building and the surrounding area.  This material consists of the colored yarn, and colors used in the painting of the objects (red and silver are not commonly found in tactical environments).   Reference material used to craft the table is a combination of maps, not only the maps used for this space, but also the maps used by Marines in Iraq to generate similar tables.  These are framed on the walls of the exhibition space.

This is not a political statement.  This is not about whether or not I agree with the war in Iraq or war in general.  This is about art in strange places and the even stranger people that create it.