LOS ANGELES — Interdisciplinary artist Chantal Barlow comes from a military family. Her grandfather and father were in the army, and her brother served in the marines. In 2018, Barlow read a report stating that 7,519 military service members committed suicide in 2015. She was overwhelmed.
“The idea that there wasn't more talk about what was happening, I just felt frustrated at the limitations of where people are putting their patriotism,” said Barlow.
Barlow, now a student at UCLA, created an art installation, Who Will Catch Them When They Fall? as her way of engaging in a conversation about the military suicide epidemic and raising its visibility. Her piece consists of two military parachutes covered with 3,814 army boot footprint applied in several layers of different-colored pigments.
“For me, scale was definitely very important,” said Barlow. “I wanted people to see [the artwork] and feel overwhelmed. You can't just walk by it and not be curious.”
While the piece does speak to scale, it is also about finding individuality within the overwhelming statistics.
A psychologist at UCLA CAPS and U.S. Military veteran, James Henry Cones III, said Barlow’s piece made him think about how hard it is for vets to communicate mental health issues. Those in trouble can feel isolated and often do not want to burden their families and friends.
“You feel two things: One, is you want to tell your story, but at the same time, you don't want to tell your story,” said Cones.
“Often, we see military in terms of the vastness of formations, of many, many soldiers. Part of the experience of being here with [Barlow’s] piece, is you can get very close to it and zoom in. These are individual people with their own families, connections, hopes, and dreams. I think it's a great invitation for discussing many of things that soldiers find very difficult to talk about.”
Barlow’s piece was just on view at UCLA, but she is hoping it has legs and will travel.
“One thing that I would like to do is have it in a more public space, or traveling in some form so that other people can make more contact with it,” said Barlow.
Barlow points out that the symbolic nature of the parachutes, as a rescue option for those in distress, will resonate and encourage more support and resources for our men and women in service who give so much for our safety.