Eric and Heather ChanSchatz

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Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, PTG.0137 War (Iraq) / American soldiers and military personnel serving in Iraq, 2009–2015. Screenprint on silk and polished stainless steel and acrylic on wall, 225 x 416 inches. Courtesy of the artists.

This teaching page is a resource to help you prepare your students for their visit to the museum and extend the discussion after your visit. Here, you can find information on the artthe artistkey ideasdiscussion questions, and additional resources.

The Art

PTG.0137 War (Iraq) / American soldiers and military personnel serving in Iraq was created by Eric and Heather ChanSchatz in collaboration with American military personnel who were on active duty in the Iraq war. The artwork consists of a framed screenprint on silk, polished pieces of stainless steel, and a huge site-specific wall mural that extends the imagery of the screenprint to monumental proportions. With its jagged, abstract forms and bold colors, the work is arresting in its vibrancy and power.      

The painting is dominated by red and black, colors that in this context evoke conflict, blood, death, and oil. The interplay between these colors—an explosion of black against a red field—appears as sharp and angular as broken glass or pieces of shrapnel. Fiery yellows, oranges, and reds, and muted tones of beige and taupe suggest the sand, heat, and intense sunshine of the Iraqi desert, which can reach 120 degrees in summer. In the lower center of the image, overlapping shapes in tones of blue suggest the patterns found in military camouflage. A huge column of black, punctuated by purple and red lines, appears to curl through and around the framed painting as if it were the thick billowing smoke of an oil fire. Stainless steel “characters,” originating in line drawings created by ChanSchatz, are attached to the painting’s surface to allow a viewer to see their reflection in the work.

With this image, Eric and Heather ChanSchatz engage the viewer in the extremes of military life and the horrors of war. In keeping with their practice to involve communities of people in their creative process, the artists contacted military personnel in Iraq through groups like the Freedom Calls, a foundation that keeps members of the military in touch with family members. ChanSchatz developed an interactive Web page so that soldiers who decided to participate in their project could choose from among a series of colors, ChanSchatz characters (abstract line drawings), and phrases that the artists had selected from their extensive archive. (More than half the troops chose the phrase “globally linked.”) The soldiers’ choices informed the artists’ conceptualization of PTG.0137 War (Iraq) / American soldiers and military personnel serving in Iraq.

Although Madison, Wisconsin, was at times a center of protest against the Iraq war, there were many Wisconsin residents who served in the conflict. According to statistics provided by the state government, 33,904 Wisconsinites have participated in active military service since September 11, 2001, in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Of those 33,904 individuals, 123 were killed in the line of duty. The visceral colors and shapes of PTG.0137 War (Iraq) / American soldiers and military personnel serving in Iraq allude to the fatal challenges faced by those individuals and thousands of other members of the United States Armed Forces, along with the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were also tragically affected by the conflict.

The Artists

Eric Chan and Heather Schatz met and began collaborating in a drawing class at the University of California, Berkeley. Since graduating in 1990 and receiving their MFA from Columbia University in New York City, the artists, who have since married, have worked collaboratively under the name ChanSchatz. During that time, they have invited a variety of individuals to participate in their creative process, including other artists; friends; millennials; coal miners; educators; stateless children in Thailand; protesters in Cairo, Egypt; and, in the case of PTG.0137 War (Iraq), American soldiers serving in Iraq. ChanSchatz’s works include large-scale collaborative paintings, like those on view in Eric and Heather ChanSchatz: 22nd Century, as well as sculptures and video. The artists live and work in New York City, and were in residence in Madison from July 2014 to February 2015 to realize their exhibition and develop a project about the city.

Key Ideas

  • Abstract imagery used to convey universal ideas and support underlying themes
  • Collaboration as a creative process
  • Visual art as a means toward social change

Discussion Questions

  1. What color or shape caught your attention first or stands out to you the most? Why?
  2. What do you associate with the dominant colors in this painting? How do they make you feel? Why?
  3. Eric and Heather ChanSchatz contacted soldiers in Iraq to ask them to select from groupings of images, colors, and phrases that they associated with the war they were fighting. What do you see in this painting that suggests their experience?
  4. Why might the artists have used an abstract language to communicate ideas about or the experience of war?
  5. Do you know anyone who has served in the military? Do you know anyone who was for or against the Iraq war? What do you think about war?


On the Artists:

Eric and Heather ChanSchatz Artists' Page

New York Times article on Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, PTG.0137 War (Iraq) / American soldiers and military personnel serving in Iraq

On the Iraq war:

Wikipedia article

New York Times articles on the Iraq war