Steve Cushman has been a shining light in Santa Barbara for many years, not least as a member of the wonderful and quirky assemblage scene that revolves around the Art From Scrap Gallery and its delightful bins of surplus objects. Browsing there one day recently, Cushman happened upon a bag of green plastic toy soldiers, the kind little kids call “army men.”
The war in Iraq had been on Cushman’s mind, and he began to conceive a piece, “The Long Green Line,” based on these toys. After buying another 4,000 army men, Cushman was ready to create the work he envisioned-with a little help from his friends. Thus it was that approximately 30 people descended on the Sullivan Goss Gallery on September 12 to take part in the assembly of a sculpture portraying the 3,774 men and women killed while serving in Iraq.
Under instructions from Cushman, the group glued two platoons’ (80 soldiers) worth of toy figures to each of a series of approximately 41-foot-square metal tiles. These completed tiles were then placed end-to-end on low wood blocks in the gallery, with a large rusted gear wheel at one end and a miniature Buddha at the other.
As a work of assemblage, the piece is a total success. The various patterns in which the little green men were applied gives the work, which from a distance resembles sod, an eye-catching, intricately fascinating rhythm and texture that make one want to pace back and forth, enjoying the changing patterns from different angles.
Then, sooner or later, it hits you. For me, that moment came as I paced off the piece from the Buddha back toward its origin at the wheel. Thirty long steps later, I had finally grasped something essential about the magnitude of our collective loss. To think that these little toys represent human beings who were, until very recently, full of life and hope, but who are now gone forever, was truly heartbreaking. This is a thrilling piece that’s also full of grief, and we are lucky to have it where anyone can visit until October 7, when it comes down. In our minds, it will never come down, not until the last soldier comes home-and not then either.
For another fascinating Frank Goss project with a related theme, visit upsidedownflags.com.