Hyperrhiz 15

Remembering the Dead

John Barber
Washington State University Vancouver

Citation: Barber, John. “Remembering the Dead.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 15, 2016. doi:10.20415/hyp/015.g01

Abstract: Remembering the Dead is a sound art installation that memorializes victims of gun homicides in America by displaying and speaking their names in a temporary autonomous zone, defined and expressed through sound, technology, and culture. In this temporary space, permanence is sought through hearing and reflection. The intent is to assure the memories of these victims will not fade.

The work is contextualized in a wooden display cabinet, reminiscent of both a bullet and a tombstone. This cabinet supports a computer and a monitor. The computer displays victims’ names, ages, and date and place of death on the monitor. Using text-to-speech technology, the name of each victim is spoken and heard via an embedded speaker. The monitor rests in a bed of empty brass bullet casings. The work requires 110 volt AC electricity and wireless Internet connection.

Installation: Remembering the Dead

Statement of Purpose

Remembering the Dead seeks to draw attention to the loss of human life by gun homicide and move thinking toward realistic solutions to gun violence in particular, and other forms of violence as well. This effort occurs on three fronts.

By collecting and curating victims’ names and other information, I promote contemporary, comprehensive record keeping of gun homicides and other acts of violence.

Through speaking and listening, I recall and reflect upon these victims, their lives and achievements, as people, rather than statistics.

By sharing this information in a responsible manner, I prompt others to speak out against this continued violence and loss of human life to gun homicides and other acts of violence.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a novel about a dystopian future where books are outlawed and burned. People memorize entire books so that their ideas will not be lost.

The 1991 ban by President George W. Bush’s administration and the U.S. Department of Defense against photographing coffins of those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom (The Iraq War, 2003-2010, more than 4,000 U.S. troops killed). In 2004, the Seattle Times published the first photograph taken of coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq being shipped back to the United States. Tami Silico, a female military contractor, took the photograph at an airport in Kuwait. When published, her photograph sparked a national debate over whether not showing images of Iraq War dead manipulated public opinion or protected family privacy. The ban on photographs of coffins was overturned in December 2009.

Jacque Derrida’s contention that we can be affected by vocal recordings of those dead or radically absent. Such recordings can touch us in the present, as a voice from beyond the grave. While Remembering the Dead does not include voice recordings of the victims it memorializes, I believe speaking their names can evoke the same connection and act of remembering noted by Derrida.

Conceptual Framework
Remembering the Dead draws on two concepts of death: physical and memory. With physical death the body ceases to function; the person is no longer among the living. With memory death, when survivors no longer remember the deceased, that person no longer exists. Respite from memory death is sought through community service, creative works, and family descendants, something to evoke the name of the dead among the living. Through such endeavors, the name of the deceased goes forward in time. As long as we remember the names of the dead, we remember their loss and sacrifice.

By speaking the names of victims, Remembering the Dead speaks to what is lost to gun homicides in America: humanity, lives, achievements, dreams, and aspirations of sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, friends, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandsons and granddaughters, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Fit Within Larger Notion of Aesthetics
Memorials to victims of wars, natural disasters, accidents, or natural causes commonly display the names of those who died. These memorials are designed to create conceptual and social spaces in which the living can recall and reflect upon the dead. Remembering the Dead extends the autonomous zone through the sound of each victim’s name spoken aloud, thus prompting new perceptual, phenomenological, and sensory engagements with this space and the act of remembrance. In this temporary space, permanence is sought through hearing and reflection. Through our engagement with this work we assert the humanity of these victims.

The display kiosk is constructed from wood. A computer, monitor, and speaker are housed inside. The monitor is positioned in a bed of empty brass bullet casings. The display of victim’s names on the monitor is facilitated by HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Text-to-speech technology is used to speak their names.

Some cities and organizations track current gun homicides, but their information is not centralized or easily available. Lacking such a resource, it is difficult to gather information regarding victims of gun homicides across America. With this challenge, I browse the Internet and follow custom-designed searches focused on news reports of shooting deaths. This is a recursive and labor intensive methodology, and I will never be certain that I have identified every victim.

Although focused on victims of gun homicides, Remembering the Dead also speaks to victims of other forms of violence around the world. For example, an iteration of this work names the nearly 3,600 people killed during the Troubles (also know as the Northern Ireland Conflict), a violent political conflict focused on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, late 1960s-early 2000s. The conflict was focused primarily in Northern Ireland, but spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and Europe. This iteration is maintained online by New Binary Press, Cork, Ireland.

Artist Statement

On 1 October 2015, ten people were shot and killed at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. I teach at a university in Washington, close enough that the local news media treated the story as local and sent reporters to the scene. Certainly it was close enough to make me think, “What if…”

Writing in The Huffington Post, Nick Wing said the Umpqua shooting was the forty-fifth school shooting of the year and the 142nd since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.

Many of these school shootings were “mass killings,” defined by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation as gun fatalities with four or more victims, not including the perpetrator. A lot of people were being killed in our schools.

In another, linked, article by Wing, he led with a provocative headline: “Guns Kill An Average of 36 People Every Day, And The Nation Doesn’t Even Blink.” Devastating as they are, school shootings deaths are small, compared to those who die in the hail of bullets around the county each day. These victims are not high profile, and they die without much attention outside their own communities (“The nation doesn’t even blink”).

Perhaps we have become calloused. Twenty-seven people were killed by guns in America on Christmas Day 2015. This single day total is comparable to annual gun homicides in Britain or Australia. Or, equal to the total annual gun homicides for Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong, and Iceland combined.

On average eighty-seven people are killed by firearms daily in the United States. The annual numbers of gun fatalities are also staggering: 33,599 in 2014; 10.54 deaths per 100,000 people. Gun and motor vehicle deaths, the leading non-medical cause of death, are now equal, roughly 30,000 people per year.

With such statistics, and the many ways they can be manipulated to support stances in the gun laws debate, and the constantly changing focus of the media looking for the next story, it is easy to gloss over what these numbers represent, ultimately: people, sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, friends, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandsons and granddaughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, with names, now dead, their lives ended.

The Umpqua shootings made me blink. What could I do to honor the victims of Roseburg, Oregon? By speaking their names, I thought, we recall and reflect upon the victims, affirm their humanity, and keep their memories from fading to statistics.

I conceptualized Remembering the Dead to speak the names of the Umpqua Community College shooting. Soon I decided to bear witness to all people killed in gun homicides that year. Not accidental deaths, or suicides, or officer involved shootings. Those statistics are counted elsewhere. Instead, Remembering the Dead focuses on people killed by intentional gun homicides.

I began collecting names of people killed in gun homicides across the country. With no central repository of victims’ names available, I browsed the Internet and followed custom-designed searches focused on news reports of shooting deaths. I followed online news reports of shooting deaths and Gun Violence Archive. Some days there were no deaths. Other days there were several. My list of names continues to grow.

Remembering the Dead is updated as frequently as I find new names. In the meantime, a voice continually speaks the names of those victims identified, providing for each a testimony to a life, a memory, a person. May they not be forgotten.

By collecting and curating victims’ names and other information, I hope to promote contemporary, comprehensive record keeping of gun homicides in America. Through the act of listening and reflection, I hope to increase awareness of continued gun homicides. By sharing this information in a responsible manner, I hope to prompt others to speak out against this continued violence and loss of humanity.

VIEW PROJECT: Remembering the Dead

Notes and Sources

  1. Tami Silicio’s Official Website provides a copy of Silicio’s photograph, as well information about its provenance and its impact.
  2. “Above all, no journalists!” In Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber (eds.). Religion and Media. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, (2001), pp. 56-93.
  3. Wing, Nick. “There Have Been 45 Shootings At Schools So Far This Year.” 1 October 2015. Wing’s information source was Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group pushing for reforms to reduce national gun violence. The group’s website notes a total of 183 school shootings since 2013, an average of nearly one per week. See the Everytown for Gun Safety website.
  4. “Mass shootings” are defined by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation as gun fatalities with four or more victims, not including the perpretrator. Data regarding mass shootings are created by local police and collated by the FBI in Supplemental Homicide Reports for each year (although FBI reports for 2012 and 2013 have not been released). However, police reports may not be provided, or may provide incomplete information. For example, Florida does not report to the FBI; the District of Columbia and Nebraska only started doing so in 2009. And murders on American Indian reservations, college campuses and military bases may not be included. To fill such gaps, “Behind the bloodshed: The untold story of America’s mass killings” undertaken by USA TODAY, uses local news reports and official records. This report also expands the coverage to “mass killings” and includes fatalities from all types of weapons, thus adding diversity to our understanding of this type of crime. This USA TODAY interactive report is continually updated and clarifies errors in FBI reports and adds information not included. See the excellent timeline of verified U.S. mass killings, 2006-2015. Gun Violence Archive (www.gunviolence.org) tracks mass shootings and provides information through their website. Information about mass shootings in 2015 is available here. Individual cities attempt to track their gun fatalities, from single homicides to mass shootings. See “2015 Baltimore City Homicides/Murders — List and Map”, “2015 Omaha homicides”, and “N.O. Crime in 2015: Fewer shootings, more deaths”. Chicago tracks its homicides daily. See “Homicide Watch Chicago”. “Chicago shooting victims,” maintained by The Chicago Tribune, tracks daily shootings, fatal and not; provides year-to-date and monthly totals compared to 2015.
  5. Wing, Nick. “Guns Kill An Average Of 36 People Every Day, And The Nation Doesn’t Even Blink.” 1 October 2015.
  6. Ingraham, Christopher. “27 Americans were shot and killed on Christmas day.” The Washington Post December 28, 2015, and Gun Violence Archive.
  7. While many more people are killed by other means, these numbers for gun related deaths are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fatal injury Reports, National and Regional, 1999-2014”. See also “FastStats, Assault or Homicide” at the CDC website. The Huffington Post reports “Guns Kill An Average Of 36 People Every Day, And The Nation Doesn’t Even Blink.” 1 October 2015. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports an average of eighty-six gun homicide victims each day. Thirty-one are murdered, fifty-five commit suicide, two are killed accidentally, one by police intervention, and one from unknown intention (“Gun Violence Statistics”). Obviously, these averages will change with statistical and/or rhetorical manipulation. FactCheck.org seeks to examine the rhetoric and how it squares with the facts, while offering broader context in which to frame the debate. See Robert Farley’s “Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts” (20 December 2012).
  8. This number includes accidents, home invasion/armed robbery, defense, suicides, homicides, mass shootings, and officer involved incidents. “States with Weak Gun Laws and Higher Gun Ownership Lead Nation in Gun Deaths, New Data for 2014 Confirms”, Violence Policy Center, 4 January 2016. Admirably filling the void of verified data related to gun injuries and fatalities of all types, Gun Violence Archive tracks and provides source data for shooting deaths and incidents, 2014-present.
  9. True, motor vehicle and gun deaths are different. Motor vehicle deaths are generally accidental. Gun deaths are generally intentional, whether you kill yourself or someone else. Still, gun deaths outnumber motor vehicle deaths in twenty-one states and the District of Columbia. See “Gun Deaths Surpass Motor Vehicle Deaths in 21 States and the District of Columbia”, Violence Policy Center, 11 January 2016.
  10. See “The Counted: Tracking People Killed by the Police in the United States.”, The Guardian. An investigation into the true number of people killed by law enforcement, who they were, and how they died. See also “The Counted: People Killed by the Police in the US.” The Guardian. Provides a searchable, interactive database of officer involved shootings for 2015 and 2016. Pictures and biographies of the victims. A year-long study by The Washington Post found police shot and killed 984 people in the United States in 2015, more than twice the previously reported number of fatal shootings. The Post undertook the study, and compiled a database, something no government agency had done. See Kindy, Kimberly and Marc Fisher. “More than 900 people have been fatally shot by police officers in 2015.” The Washington Post 26 December 2015. See also “People shot dead by police this year”, The Washington Post for current, interactive data regarding officer involved gun fatalities across the country. This database is based on news reports, public records, Internet databases and original reporting. A number of data filters are selectable for each state. Gun Violence Archive notes 4,363 officer involved incidents (3,214 for 2014) not all of which led to fatalities. Gun Violence Archive also tracks and provides source data for officer involved shootings for 2016. Source data is provided. See also the Historical Violence Database maintained by the Criminal Justice Research Center at The Ohio State University.
  11. Gun Violence Archive collects and validates information regarding gun violence and crime incidents from 1,500 sources daily. These incidents and their source data are available at the organization’s website. Data related to gun injuries and fatalities of all types is verified, with source data for shooting deaths and incidents, 2014-present.
  12. Several data sources and recursive fact checking are utilized to document the names of gun homicide victims. Still, some names remain unknown. Naming these victims “Unidentified” does not signify disrespect, but rather every attempt to honor.

Conceptual design and research: John F. Barber
Additional research: Ryan House
Coding: Greg Philbrook
Voice: Responsive Voice
Cabinetry: Jim Boesel

Technical Details
Remembering the Dead is available for gallery installation. It ships nationally and  internationally via UPS, DHL, and FedEx. For European exhibitions, the empty brass shell casings are not included as they are not allowed for import.

65.5" (166.37 cm) Height x 24" (60.96 cm) Width x 13.5" (34.29 cm) Depth
135 pounds Weight

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22 September-14 October 2016
Curated by Dene Grigar
Exhibition website: http://dtc-wsuv.org/elit/you-i/

Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association conference and festival on sound in the arts, science and technology
Garden of Reflection Gallery
Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland
7-9 September 2016
Event website: http://issta.ie/

Project Archival Website