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Yale student's Sept. 11 memorial sparked campus dialogue

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When James Tunick, Yale class of 2003, removed his Sept. 11 sculpture from campus, it was surrounded by a well-worn ring of dirt and brown grass, covered in students' scrawls, and bound for the pages of Rolling Stone Magazine.

The sculpture – two stark vertical wooden planks – was Yale's most visible and most visited reminder of the attacks in the fall term.

Even as it sat in a common room of a residence hall, across from a jukebox and big-screen TV, the sculpture quickly became a record of Yalies' complicated feelings about Sept. 11.

It was designed to be written on, to create a "dialogue," Mr. Tunick says.

Half a year after the attacks, the sculpture, built with the help of two other students, had become part ongoing conversation and part anthropological artifact.

It lacks the sleek lines of a Brancusi, but its genius is in its dual role as sculpture and public forum. "I wanted to give people voices when they needed it the most," Tunick says.

The writing itself is hardly a cross section of public opinion. While polls show that most Americans supported military action in Afghanistan, the sculpture is covered in messages of peace. "Trust God, revenge is not the answer," one person wrote.

Still, there are a number of hawkish messages. "Nuke Afghanistan," wrote one person. But the message has been crossed out, and a flower, now dry, is taped over it.

"[The flower] is like a Band-Aid, like it's an open wound," Tunick says.

There is also a patchwork collection of crude images, mostly of doves, hearts, and crosses. One of the towers bears a picture of two children holding hands with the caption: "Remember this?"

The sculpture includes representations of simple anguish, too: "I miss my first grade teacher – dead," one inscription reads. "I miss you Jen, Tower #1, 87th floor," reads another.

Last November, Rolling Stone magazine published a full-page color picture of the statue, and it has since been featured prominently in exhibitions at the Digital Media Center for the Arts and the Yale Cabaret.

Tunick says he received offers for the statue, but has no plans to sell it.

"I'd really like to lend it out to museums, galleries, and schools," he says.


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