Leslie Thornton’s They Were Just People is a chilling exploration of the purpose and repurposing of memory during wartime. The work combines the artist’s manipulated footage of the La Brea Tar Pits in California with an oral account describing moments in the immediate aftermath of the 1945 US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. Thornton’s video emerges as a dark personal response to CROSSROADS (1976), artist Bruce Conner’s iconic film of the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear test. They Were Just People is the third installment in the Moving Image Commissions, a series that addresses works by key artists in the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Collection. 2016, video, 10 minutes.
Leslie Thornton is a pioneer of contemporary media aesthetics, working at the border and limits of cinema, video and digital media. Thornton is known for addressing a range of charged subjects, from Orientalism to the exfoliations of war, and the disposition of nonhuman species. Thornton is the recipient of two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Maya Deren Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the first Alpert Award in the Arts for Media. Her work has been exhibited internationally at: Documenta 12, Kassel; The Whitney Biennial, and MoMA PS1 in New York; Tate Modern, Serpentine Gallery, and Raven Row in London; and screened at the Rotterdam, Berlin, Buenos Aires and New York Film Festivals. Thornton is professor of modern culture and media at Brown University. She lives and works in New York City and Providence, Rhode Island.