First, I think that asking any American citizen about their relationship to tragedy is like asking a snowman what their relationship is to snow. The American landscape is steeped in tragedy from day one, from slavery, through the genocide of native peoples, through the continued enslavement of African Americans and all its many systemic permutations since post Civil War Reconstruction, through being the first and only nation to ever use atomic weapons on innocent civilians (in Japan), through taking down democratically elected leaders during the Cold War and replacing them with puppet dictators who brutally enforced the interests of Wall St. We are a society and culture defined by economic and military empire building through and through like nothing the world has ever seen, all defined by a very explicit and formulaic process of violent military and economic global exploitation, extraction and economic enslavement. The American empire is more real than anything we can imagine and it is a model expression of Western colonial and imperialist expansion and exploitation since the 1500's, as Fabian Scheidler brilliantly explains in his book The End of the Megamachine. We are the Megamachine, and the Megamachine litters human history with its trail of tragedy, and now is poised to commit the final tragedy against humanity itself in the form of the absurdly benign phrase "climate change".
So, this is my personal and political relationship to tragedy. If my work were not about tragedy then I would not be making work about that which concerns me and occupies my thoughts the most as a living, caring human being. I would be no different than the very lie of empire to which I sadly, even tragically, belong.
On the question asked itself: Tragedy is defined as misfortune, and this is a good question for my work because the subject shows people in great misfortune, without question. The question that I think is being asked is about the role of tragedy in my work as a statement about the human condition and secondly as a means of presenting ideas generally. So, I will answer both separately, though they are clearly very similar. On the former: as a reflection on the human condition I employ tragedy because I believe that the human condition is tragic for the simple reason that we cannot, no matter how hard we try, make sense of our own mortality. We are all, as it were, doomed to one single fate: death, unequivocally. This sets the stage of the human experience from start to finish. Tragedy is our truth, in other words, and it is the realm, therefore, of most interest to me, both personally and at the level of the entire species. The tragedy of our mortality is our deepest secret, our deepest motivator, our deepest focus, our deepest and darkest impossibility that we cannot solve; it is the puzzle, the void, the great unknown, and therefore it is also the source of all our beauty, our hope and our love, but also, all of our hate as well. I could speak extensively about this but I’ll stop there. On the latter, I use tragedy as a conscious way to present ideas because it is a means of speaking about the truth of our existence that forces a moral discussion, and this is critically important to me. Any sensible person could argue that I could have the same discussion about society at large with an analysis of joy or entertainment or some other modality, but tragedy and tragic stories carry a moral code to them that I find especially compelling. We have to ask why we allow these tragedies to take place; we have to assign moral value to them and therefore we have to look inwards at ourselves and at the society to which we all belong, that we are all responsible for constructing. This is the most important part of the use of tragedy in my work: the question about our moral choices as a society; tragedy allows me to assign this question outwards to us all and ask: What role do we each play in these tragedies we see in front of us in this artwork?