Re/reading Riley’s Story – Jennifer Cawley

Carnival of the Animals (Study No. 1 for “Re/reading Riley’s Story”) re-presents images drawn from Monica Haller’s artist’s book, Riley and his story and envisions a kind of interior, post-traumatic recollection of war in the context of what might be read as an unidentified festive event marked by carnival-like organ music, that lends a dark irony to this study.  Loud, intrusive sounds of a helicopter disrupt the experience of the present and relocate the video in memory of past war experiences.   Details of murals believed to have been painted by Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein’s rule and depicting deer and waterfowl appear and recede from view throughout the video.  Within the formidable prison, these almost otherworldy animal witnesses seem to deepen the sense of a kind of dark, fearful carnival.  As Sharbonno describes, most Iraqi detainees held by the United States at the prison were deemed free of guilt and eventually released.  In their extreme vulnerability, through their capture and detention, many suffered considerable psychological and physical harm, even death.  Likewise, military personnel like Riley, who himself went to Iraq to heal rather than kill, were often objectified and deeply wounded by experiences that were imposed on them through their service to the United States government in the “dark carnival” of the war in Iraq.

A Master of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Jennifer Cawley received support of a RISD Graduate Studies | Grant for the provisionally titled project “Re/reading Riley’s Story,” which includes this video and through multiple mediums responds to and reinterprets images and text derived from Riley and his story along with audio footage from interviews that Haller conducted with Sharbonno.  Cawley states, “Sharbonno’s description of Abu Ghraib, his traumatic experiences and deep remorse over the United States’ responsibility for unnecessary deaths and injustices related to the war, as well as the profound memory loss that he suffered during and following his tour in Iraq are critical departure points for this work, which I hope will help amplify and extend the resonance of Riley and his story.”

Jennifer Cawley
Carnival of the Animals (Study No. 1 for “Re/reading Riley’s Story”)
Single-channel video
4 minutes, 4 seconds
(with audio tracks Gretchenstr by JMFH, Deep Pulse 02 by Martian, and Close Helicopter by Nofeedbak of The Freesound Project and book pages by Monica Haller and Riley Sharbonno excerpted, altered, and remixed by Jennifer Cawley)