VOICES OF 9.11
A People’s Archive (2002 – 2003)
Voices of 9.11 is a collection of over 500 video testimonies recorded in 2002-2003 in New York City, Shanksville, PA, Washington D.C. and the Pentagon. At a time when language to describe the event was still being formed, the project was explicitly designed to give each individual agency over the story of their own lived experience. Inside a homemade video booth the participant started + stopped their own recording, they could speak for as long or short a time as they wished and in whatever language they felt most comfortable. Together we created this people’s archive of September 11, 2001.
In 2021, Voices of 9.11 was the basis of a feature documentary directed by Bjørn Johnson and David Belton. Memory Box; Echoes of 9/11 premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, aired on MSNBC and is currently screening on the Peacock network.
Voices of 9.11 was developed at here is new york: a democracy of photographs. In 2011 the entire collection was made available to the public online. Today the Voices of 9.11 collection is jointly held by the New-York Historical Society and the September 11 Digital Archive which has initiated a long term plan to donate its entire collection to the Library of Congress for permanent preservation.
View the Voices of 9.11 testimonies.
Please also see See You in the Streets, Chalk, Gaza Ghetto, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition
Art is whatever lowers barriers and creates real communication across impassable barriers. To use it to create passions to fight for an issue is not art, it is the opposite of it, because it is not lowering or transcending barriers. Art is the only thing that can bridge or transcend or transform in real and lasting ways. And that is what it is. It makes connections with others very different from ourselves – – including our enemies and including hidden neglected unknown parts of ourselves that are wakened and drawn forth. – Maryat Lee, Radical Theater
There is a particular kind of hurt when the reality of our lived experience is denied. We grow twisted, bonsai limbs, trying to shape ourselves to a story that will never fit. Droplets of lead steadily fill each pore, a bit uncomfortable at first, until suddenly we find we can’t move our features at all.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11 there was a hush as we stood stark before the enormity of what had happened. Then a rush of sound; sirens, voices, broadcast newscasters and politicians. People trying to be authoritative even when they didn’t really know what had happened themselves.
Certain kinds of stories found amplification. They told of heroism, American can-do spirit. Those who complicated the narrative were quickly silenced. Voices, that spoke of sadness, confusion and searching questions, were held back until we could no longer hear them and forgot that they existed at all.
Grief requires an expanse. The field is filled with the shards of our exploded lives. It is an arduous process to shape the pieces of your story back into something that can be survived. Some people, good people, hard working people, people who are loved, do not make it.
I made Voices of 9.11 because I knew grief. I wanted to create a place where people could be held while doing the necessary work of crafting their story. Where each person’s contribution is a gift that adds to our collective project of humanity and understanding of the world.
I made Voices of 9.11 because I cherish our imperfect union. As a nation we plunged forward in out dated models of revenge and retaliation, missing an opportunity to learn from the expertise of others who have lived experience with terror both abroad and at home. The cost of that missed conversation is all around us.
I am deeply grateful to all the people who bravely shared their story in 2002-2003. I think of you, wonder about your lives and very much hope that you are well and thriving. Thank you for collaborating to make this people’s archive possible.
My heartfelt thanks to all the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to create and sustain Voices of 9.11.
Each of us is already weaving the threads for what happens next in our story. It is a good fight to dream boldly, refusing the co-optation of our imaginative worlds. Our stories hold a wild freedom. They can bust open possibility, reach around the globe, even touch other generations. They never exist in isolation but always reveal a joyous disorder of threads running out and through the stories of others. Shimmering, waving, we tilt into the light of our collective future.
Voices of 9.11 has been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Théâtre de la Ville (Paris) and the New York Historical Society. The project was the basis for the feature length documentary Memory Box; Echoes of 9/11 directed by Bjørn Johnson + David Belton.
Recordings (2002 – 2003)
Created by Ruth Sergel
NYC Director: Pamela Griffiths
Washington DC/Pentagon: Laura Doggett, Vicki Warren, Lara McPherson
Pennsylvania: Andrea Star Reese
Booth Design: Tim Main
Technical Design & Support: Paul Constantine, David Griffiths, Juan Molinari, Steve Robison, Daniel Valdez.
Additional Support: Martha K. Babcock, Maggie Berkvist, Cynthia Dartley, Abigail Feldman, Kerin Ferallo, Karen Jaroneski, Mary Liao, Rosalind Lichter, Brenda English Manes, Jay Manis, Christine McAndrews, Stephanie Schenppe, Deborah Schwartz, Nelly Sidotti, Fernanda Malarazzo Suplicy, Nancy Tongue, Aaron Traub, Mary Traub, Amy Wentz, Mandy Yu.
Thank you to Michael Shulan, Mark Lubell, Charles Traub & all at here is new york: a democracy of photographs.
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Ruth Sergel, Jude Calder, Laura Doggett, Pamela Griffiths, Nancy Tongue.
Translations: Lana Cheung, Sherry Kane, Peter von Salis
Additional Support: Magnus Pind Bjerre, Juan Molinari, Aaron Traub.
The 2011 project to bring all of Voices of 9.11 online is made possible by the generous support of our donors:
Anonymous, Martha Ann Babcock, John Barnes, Suzanne Pred Bass, Therese Baxter, Mary Berke, Maggie Berkvist, Lou Blumengarten, Christina Campanella, Roy Campolongo, Sybil Cohen, Theresa Curtin, Suzanne Epstein, Kerin Ferallo, Carol Fleming, Jörg Fockele, Nicole Franklin, Lyn Gale, Brian Garrick, Marsha Gildin, Steven Harkness, Carol J. Howard, Rose Imperaton, Gloria Jacobs, Allison Kestenbaum, Peilin Kuo, Marvin Kupfer, LuLu LoLo, Laura Lomer, Jay Manis, Lynne McQuaker, Carla Meyer, James Miller, Susan Patner, Lewis Rothenberg, Deborah Schwartz, Eva J von Schweinitz, Laura Shapiro, Andi Sosin, Mark Tabashnick, Judith Treesberg, Sheryl Woodruff, Ellen Yaroshefsky, Anna Yusim, Lori Zaumseil.
Thank you to Steve Brier and the September 11 Digital Archive and Marilyn Kushner and Jennifer Schantz of the New-York Historical Society for their support of this project.