Canadian artist Maskull Lasserre is known for his inventive approaches to exploring the morbid, such as placing human bone models in ordinary structures and making a stringed musical instrument out of a handgun.
One of his most recent projects is called Beautiful Dreamer. These are music boxes shaped like grenades. Pull the pin on one, and it’ll will play once and only once. Some of the grenades play “America the Beautiful” and others play “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Although he does not say so, I wonder if this project grew out of Lasserre’s experience as an artist embedded with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. He describes his time in Afghanistan in an interview:
I went there without the expectation of making anything there or anything specific to it. I don’t work reflectively or even reflexively. I don’t just have an experience or see something and make something that’s derivative of that. There’s a strange third phase in the middle where I have to internalize everything and then forget about it. Eventually it comes out by itself. For better or worse, that’s just how I work.
That being said, I didn’t anticipate the huge gulf between my so-called work and the “work” that was happening over there. If I didn’t know it before, then I knew it when I arrived; there is no common ground between art and war. They are just so far apart.
So to approach it—never mind personally, but professionally—was intimidating. What I did was to work very hard to forget about making work for as long as I could. I took a whole bunch of photographs and made a bunch of drawings, but nothing captured more than the superficial colour and shape of what was there; nothing of the essence.
To me, that experience had to become fictionalized in order for me to make anything remotely related, and the work that came out is probably equally removed from war as it is from art. If it’s true that there’s no middle ground between those two modes of being, then I think that the work that I made is squarely in the middle of that.
It’s interesting, on an intellectual level, to put these things out there that don’t have a precedent—certainly in the connections that I can make between them and my previous work. They really are new facts in my understanding of the world. They’re kind of out there in that no man’s land, and they’re interesting to think about for that reason.