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It is What it is: Conversations About Iraq, A New Commission for the Three M Project

SAINT LOUIS, MO.-The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis presents It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, a new project by Turner Prize-winning British artist Jeremy Deller commissioned and produced by Creative Time and the New Museum. The project will encourage public discussion of the history, present circumstances, and future of Iraq through unscripted, nonpartisan conversations in cities across the country. These talks will be held in public sites such as shopping malls and parks by guest experts Jonathan Harvey and Esam Pasha, who were selected by Deller. In St. Louis, The Contemporary will host the project In the Delmar Loop in between Leland Ave. and Melville Ave on March 31, 2009, from 12:00 to 5:00 pm. The public is encouraged to visit the project, and to bring objects related to Iraq to converse about.

Jeremy Deller conceived It Is What It Is to stimulate unmediated dialogue about Iraq, and our relationship to it as people and as a nation. “I have read a ton of books and articles about the war but short of going to Iraq itself there is no substitute for meeting someone who has actually lived, or been there, hence the core part of this project,” said Deller. To this end, over 30 people with a variety of first-hand experiences of the country were available for conversations with thousands of visitors during the project’s installation at the New Museum in New York, from February 10 to March 22. A complete list of these experts is available at On March 25, the project will begin a three-week road trip by RV from New York to Los Angeles, during which time the artist and guest experts Jonathan Harvey (an Iraq war veteran and recently demobilized Psychological Operations platoon sergeant) and Esam Pasha (an Iraqi refugee, artist, and former translator for the Chief Advisor in the British Embassy of Baghdad) will visit at least 10 cities nationally. This road trip will broaden and deepen the dialog begun in New York, extending the conversation to diverse audiences across the country.

Also traveling with the experts is a car destroyed in a bombing on Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad in March 2007. This tragedy killed over thirty people, and has taken on added significance because the street, named after a well-known Iraqi poet, was the site of numerous book markets and cafés, and was considered the nexus of Baghdadi cultural and intellectual life. The car is meant to ground conversations in the facts, figures, and eyewitness descriptions that have been lacking in most information about the Iraq war, and is intended to serve as a visual aid to prompt open dialogue and civil conversation. It was also one of a sparse selection of objects in the presentation at the New Museum.

When the road trip portion of It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq arrives in Los Angeles, the project will go on view at the Hammer Museum and will then travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as part of the Three M Project.

It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq is curated for Creative Time by: Nato Thompson, Curator; and for the New Museum by: Laura Hoptman, Kraus Family Senior Curator, and Amy Mackie, Curatorial Assistant. The research team includes: Shane Brennan, Sarah Demeuse, Ozge Ersoy, Jazmin Garcia, and Terri C. Smith.

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