Call and Response #1: Buried Alive

A Talk On x Combat Art Collective collaboration with the support of talented artists across the country.

(FYI, scroll down for a handy TL;DR version of what’s below for the mouth-breathers out there)

Here’s the story: Combat Art Collective (CAC) and the Talk On reached out to artists for contributions to a conversation about the American war experience. Our mission is to build better relationships between the military/veteran and civilian communities through storytelling. And while the Talk On promotes all creative content generated by veterans, the vast majority of work on the site has been writing or interviews. No attempt to explain the GWOT experience to a civilian audience would be complete without creative visual aids. So, Talk On teamed up with CAC, whose mission is to make art a viable career opportunity for veterans, to inject some more color and content alongside the words we’ve posted. Together, we released Buried Alive, an essay that had been featured on the Talk On, and asked artists from any background, training, style, and age group to think about how the essay affected them and come back with something original in return. We pushed “send” and held our breath, fully expecting crickets. But in less than 24 hours, we had our first submission, and after a few more weeks (and some holiday delays on our part), the rest trickled in, and we think we have the start of something interesting here.

Beyond the essay that ties these pieces together, there were no themes, rules, or limitations of admission. We received work from artists just beginning their education, and from others who’ve had time to hone their craft. For some, art may be a hobby and for others, it’s a career or a lifeline. A few chose to stay close to the text as they created their work, enhancing and defining the words on the page, while others locked onto something internally that took their work in a wholly different direction. Some are veterans, others are military family or civilian, and if we didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know the difference, which is kind of the idea after all. We aren’t critics, and we’re not really curators, we’re just trying to find a way to share a war with people who, in the absence of a draft, never had to go. We think these talented artists help advance that conversation tremendously, and we hope you like it (and there’s lots more to come).

Read the piece in its entirety (don’t worry, it’s not long) and then take a look at what was created in response. Submitted works, along with a statement and information about the artist, are posted below in the order in which they were received.

TL;DR: People like pictures, so we asked a bunch of talented strangers to make us some pictures based on a story we wrote. They’re all really cool. Check it out.

“By the end, the moon dust had embedded beyond the threads and seams of our clothing and bled into our skin and lungs and veins, and we knew we’d carry it back home with us when we departed Helmand. Our relationship with it had become inextricable.”

Artist: Sarah Rossetti
Statement: Buried alive, when the boys/gals come back from the sandbox they are still covered in the fine powder long after their first shower home. You can smell it on them, you can feel it on their skin. I’ve found myself asking what it looks like. Best description I have ever heard was to imagine only seeing brown for months on end. Imagine coming back to the colorful place you call home. It’s a sensory overload. I tried to capture that constant haze.
Open to Commissions?: Yes

“Years passed, and while the physical presence of the moon dust had faded into memory, its absence felt like the phantom tingle of a long lost limb.”

Artist: Michael Reynolds (Executive Director of Warriors In Art)
Statement: The experiences of combat hang on to each of us in different ways. This painting represents the process of finding the way back from that experience to normalcy. For many Veterans that includes a new battle with prescriptions. This is the view from the bottom of the orange bottle.

“We fought, exercised, relaxed, and ate together, always together, shaking the silt out of our clothing and hair, and scraping it off spoons and forks of food. It mixed with sweat from long patrols and blood from open wounds, creating a vile mud that caked and stained our bodies. We endured all of it as a team…”

Artist: Tripp Ainsworth (author of Smokepit Fairytales)
Statement: All of the love, laughs, cries, and pains of the people you’re with becomes part of you, besides them, you only have sand or steel. And sure, at the time all you want to do is go home, but once you’re home you want to go back. You don’t miss the dirt or boredom, and you don’t miss the Taliban or army of strangers on ship. You miss being around those specific people twenty-four seven. Instead of chain smoking and swapping stories, you’re drinking with whoever just happens to be around you, even if that’s just yourself and you’re just going back over the same stories over and over again in your head. (Tripp will have his own feature on the Talk On shortly, from which this statement has been excerpted)

“…I reached into my pocket and found a handful of fine silt. I let it slowly slip through my fingers and fall quietly to the ground, some particles floating away in the warm breeze, and I smiled as I thought of my brothers from Helmand, whose veins coursed with the same sand as mine. Finally, I shook off all that remained on the outside and went down to the edge of the water to join my family.”

Artist: Stephanie K

Statement: While reading “Buried Alive” I thought of the many things that seem to impact our way of thinking while in the military. There are so many ways we are pushed and pulled, and sometimes we can only be in one place physically and mentally. Being buried alive is not something I conceptualized as just dirt and rocks. But I do remember the moon dust and the small clouds made while walking to chow or prepping aircraft. Defying gravity is the best way to explain the way it floats and when that dust gets riled up, it chokes everything it touches. Much like water. Anyone who has ever been in the ocean can attest to the current and how it pulls you without any form of forgiveness. As with any risk, the reward can be worth it. Even if that means you leave with nothing more than amazing experiences and an adrenaline kick. As military members, we are programmed to train, make rank, deploy, progress, and perform on a regular basis. These concepts form the momentum of the wave. They not only push you forward in life, but they can drag you down and keep you under for as long as you allow. Your team is the front of that wave, because everyone around you depends on everyone else to push through all of those milestones to ensure readiness and mission success. The calm water of the DD-214 is where the water deepens and gets dark as it falls into the abyss without a purpose. While the wave crashes into the stillness that seems to many as the afterlife of military service, it stirs up the still water creating the white seafoam filled with memories, trauma, education, injuries, and fatigue. Through all of this is the eye of wave. The DoD always watching and never letting the wave get too far away. The surfboard and leash make up the support system that everyone needs in order to survive the thrashing of the wave and pull of the undertow. Family, friends, teammates, and complete support networks may be the only thing that keeps some from removing the leash and letting the current pull them into an open water abyss. As long as you can climb the leash, you can make it back to the surface. As with any wave, it will leave and return, many times throughout your career and maybe even your life. The leash is connected to you, not the other way around. Remember the leash.
“The ones who push the limits sometimes discover that the limits sometimes push back.” –
Frosty Hesson (Chasing Mavericks)
Open to Commissions?: Yes

“The dust descended around us as we moved towards our new home…the suddenness of our arrival deadened by the deep sand that seemed to suck us downward into the earth. With every step, clouds of the stuff would fly into the air and hang in space, defying gravity before falling slowly back into place. The depth of it silenced the sounds of our movement, and in the quiet, I had time to marvel at how I came to find myself at…war so far from home.”

Artist: Abigail Schullerts

Statement: I drew a Marine rifleman wading through a sandstorm. I thought that would help illustrate the authors’ description of the dense silt that covered the environment.

“As time passed, the world shrank around us until our waking minds could reach no farther than a few hundred meters beyond the outpost’s sandy walls. In these days, weeks, and months, we trudged between our tent to the outpost command center and back, kicking up hurricanes of dust. “

Artist: Zach Trumble

“As we departed in a long slow convoy, the dust seemed to overtake the outpost in an instant, reclaiming its rightful space in full. “

Artist: Andrew Storck

Statement: I carefully select material and finish to explore the passage of time and our concept of the item being viewed. I enjoy recreating everyday objects that hold extreme personal meaning. This practice presents a unique opportunity to reflect on my time in the U.S. Air Force. Exploring how these experiences have shaped my perspective on life. I hope my work can speak to others who have served, drawing from shared experiences and circumstances, while shedding light on a part of society less discussed and understood by those who haven’t served. The project “Buried Alive” presented the unique challenge of a short deadline for creating a custom ceramic object. The challenge was rewarding for two main reasons; I think that creating a community for veteran artists is extremely valuable, and having a platform for us to share our unique perspective and experiences is exciting and something I hope to be able to continue to do.
Open to Commissions?: Yes

“The dust descended around us as we moved towards our new home in the steppe, the suddenness of our arrival deadened by the deep sand that seemed to suck us downward into the earth.”

Artist: Luke Turner

Statement: “Memory in sand” relies heavily on the concept of how something simple such as sand has the power to bring up memories recent and distant. Each hand is a metaphor of military and civilian life. The chain in the metal hand represents a grasp on memories as they are recalled. Placed and covered in sand, the two lives are brought together though that single interaction. The empty shell casings carry more of a darker note, one that represents an event and the hollow shell left behind once it’s over. 

If you are a veteran writer who wants to share their work to be interpreted on future Call & Response projects, or an artist (veteran, civilian, spouse, whatever!) of any kind who would like to be included in the next project, please Contact Us to let us know about your interest.

6 thoughts on “Call and Response #1: Buried Alive

  1. Abigail, my daughter has such a love for the military….Her dad and I are so proud that she was selected to share her talent on your unique presentation… sincerely Susan Schullerts

    1. What an excellent way to connect civilians with those who have served or are serving! I agree with my wife, our daughter Abby is an amazing artist.. but not only is that true, this piece is an example of her adoration of the U.S. military. Ironically one of the most important things any artist has to have is their vision, yet this is what has prohibited her from being in the military, which was very hard for her to except. For most civilians they may not have served due to not needing to. But for some, like my amazing daughter, she couldn’t. So she has devoted many years working on military art, from poems that are used at Camp Pendleton to her work here.
      God bless the US military and thank you for sharing my daughters work!

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