In 2008 the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) in Chicago exhibited a group show of artists offering diverse perceptions of the United States. The exhibition explored the cultural climate of America, reflecting the polarizing issues the nation: the complicated and messy War on Terror, as well as battles over immigration, security, abortion, and economics. Curator, Karen Irvine, described the artists work as demonstrating “that our nation’s character is not tribal, but rather it is a constantly shifting confluence of traditions, stereotypes, and opinions, as understood from both within the country and from the outside.” Irvine established a time line of patriotic fervor that ebbed and flowed between September 11, 2001; the downward spiral of the Iraq war; and the continuing fragmentation of national identity, utilising the famous folk song refrain This Land is Your Land, as title and philosophical framework for the exhibition. Woody Guthrie wrote those lyrics to a Baptist hymn in 1940, and has become one of the most popular patriotic songs in America.
The exhibition brought together two works by Roberts, Desert Blast (1999) and Winter Blast (2002), which together explored how a significantly altered political and cultural landscape in post 9-11 America had effected individual’s civil liberties. Desert Blast – a secret gathering of pyrotechnic enthusiasts in the Nevada desert – was an exercise in radical protest involving high explosives, home-made bombs and c-grade fireworks. Due to strict new government rules on individuals holding pyro material after 9-11, the event incarnated into Winter Blast. The latter, organised by the Western Pyrotechnic Association (WPA) and held in Lake Havasu on President’s Day Weekend, became a patriotic rallying cry for the so-called ‘War Against Terror’ where registered pyro-technicians gathered to manufacture and shoot consumer grade fireworks (with names like ‘Bin Laden suppositories’ and ‘Terrorist blasters’), to the soundtrack of John Wayne waxing lyrical about the beauty of America and George W Bush claiming that “freedom will be defended from a faceless enemy.”