There's this quote by activist and punk rock musician Jello Biafra that I love. He says, "Don't hate the media. Be the media." I'm an artist. I like working with media and technology because A, I'm familiar with them and I like the power they hold. And B, I hate them and I'm terrified of the power they hold.
I remember watching, in 2003, an interview between Fox News host Tony Snow and then-US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. They were talking about the recent invasion of Iraq, and Rumsfeld is asked the question, "Well, we're hear about our body counts, but we never hear about theirs, why?" And Rumsfeld's answer is, "Well, we don't do body counts on other people." Right?
It's estimated that between 150,000 to one million Iraqis, civilians, have died as a result of the US-led invasion in 2003. That number is in stark contrast with the 4,486 US service members who died during that same window of time. I wanted to do more than just bring awareness to this terrifying number. I wanted to create a monument for the individual civilians who died as a result of the invasion.
Monuments to war, such as Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial, are often enormous in scale. Very powerful and very one-sided. I wanted my monument to live in the world, and to circulate. I remember when I was a boy in school, my teacher assigned us this classic civics assignment where you take a sheet of paper and you write a member of your government. And we were told, if we wrote a really good letter, if we really thought about it, we would get back more than just a simple formed letter as a reply.
This is my "Notepad." What looks like an everyday, yellow legal tablet of paper is actually a monument to the individual Iraqi civilians that died as a result of the US invasion. "Notepad" is an act of protest and an act of commemoration disguised as an everyday tablet of paper. The lines of the paper, when magnified, are revealed to be micro-printed text that contains the details, the names, the dates and locations of individual Iraqi civilians that died.
So, for the last 5 years, I've been taking pads of this paper, tons of this stuff, and smuggling it into the stationery supplies of the United States and the Coalition governments.
I don't have to tell you guys this is not the place to discuss how I did that.
But also, I've been meeting one-on-one with members and former members of the so-called Coalition of the Willing, who assisted in the invasion.
And so, whenever I can, I meet with one of them, and I share the project with them. And last summer, I had the chance to meet with former United States Attorney General and Torture Memo author, Alberto Gonzales.
(Video) Matt Kenyon: May I give this to you? This is a special legal tablet. It's actually part of an ongoing art project.
Alberto Gonzalez: This is a special legal pad?
MK: Yes. You won't believe me, but it's in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art; I'm an artist.
MK: And all of the lines of the paper are actually —
AG: Are they going to disappear?
MK: No, they're micro-printed text that contains the names of individual Iraqi civilians who have died since the invasion of Iraq.
AG: Yeah. OK.
AG: Thank you. MK: Thank you.
The way he says "thank you" really creeps me out.
OK, so I'd like each of you to look under your chairs. There's an envelope. And please open it. The paper you're holding in your hand contains the details of Iraqi civilians that died as result of the invasion. I'd like you to use this paper and write a member of government. You can help to smuggle this civilian body count into government archives. Because every letter that's sent in to the government, and this is all across the world, of course — every letter that is sent in is archived, filed and recorded. Together, we can put this in the mailboxes and under the noses of people in power. Everything that's sent in eventually becomes part of the permanent archive of our government, our shared historical record.
Tom Rielly: So, tell me Matt, how did this idea come into your head, of "Notepad"?
Matt Kenyon: I'd just finished a project that dealt with the US Coalition side of the war and it was a black armband that was called the "Improvised Empathetic Device" which accumulated, in real time, the names, ranks, cause of death and location of US service members who had died overseas, and each time the Department of Defense or CENTCOM released their data, it would stab me in the arm. And so, I became aware that there was a spectacle associated with our own people who were dying overseas, but a disproportionate amount of casualties were the civilian casualties.
TR: Thank you so much.
MK: Thank you.