Category:memorials

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image via @alexismadrigal

I haven't been, but I feel like I'm very familiar with the border wall that extends into the sea between the US and Mexico.

Several artists have made projects around it, including using it as a volleyball net, or painting one side of it. It's telling that the Berlin Wall was also painted, on the free side, or rather, on the side that did not erect the wall. Israel's wall in the occupied West Bank is painted in that direction, too.

Anyway, when I saw Alexis Madrigal's photo of the border wall built in the ocean, I thought what I always thought: it's as cool as it is terrible. [I think Madrigal was attending #RiseUpAsOne, concert/festival sponsored by Fusion at Friendship Park on the US side.]

When the political divisions currently ripping the US apart, and the political, cultural, racial, security, and economic differences between the US and our neighbor get sorted out, and our terrified, weaponized national border stance eases, I hope that this section of the wall will stay and become a memorial.

July 24, 2016

Tantas Sombras

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Teresa Margolles' La Sombra, installed at Echo Park Lake, photo: Carolina Miranda/LAT

Teresa Margolles has contributed a memorial to Current: LA Water, the "public art biennial," which started last week. La Sombra (The Shade) is near Echo Park Lake and looks to be the most significant and prominent work in the program, which runs, incredibly, for less than a month.

La Sombra is a six meter-high...pavilion? Awning? Structure? In her onsite report for the LA Times, Carolina Miranda calls it an installation, a memorial, and a monument. It looks like it's made of concrete, but if it's going to disappear in a couple of weeks, I suspect it's gunnite or stucco sprayed on a plywood box.

Which hurts. Margolles created La Sombra as a memorial to 100 Los Angelenos murdered with guns in the last 18 months. The sites of these killings were visited, washed, and the water re-collected for use in mixing the concrete. This circulatory element echoes Margolles' previous works which incorporate the water used to wash corpses in the morgue in her home city of Juarez.

La Sombra is a stark, powerful form that draws people to it, especially on a hot, sunny day. In this way, perhaps, the deaths of these hundred people might yield some comfort to the living. Maybe family and friends can come sit under it. Maybe people will be motivated to act against gun-related violence.

"I wanted [La Sombra] to be on the scale of what has happened," says Margolles in the Times. "I wanted it to have presence."

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Donald Judd, One of 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980-84, 2.5m x 2.5m x 5m, Chinati Foundation, image via wiki

The scale and presence of La Sombra are indeed notable. It seems quite large. It looks like it could be concrete-Judd-in-Marfa-fields-size, but it is actually 4x that. It has an architectural presence and is not slight. It feels like about the right scale for 100 people. Maybe it is even the size of 100 people standing within it, I don't know.

Memorials use scale to convey their meaning. Some memorials, like for the people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and the AA77 crash at the Pentagon, use a cemetery-like field of individual-scale objects-chairs and benches, respectively-to represent the dead. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World Trade Center Memorial, meanwhile, incorporate individual names into a larger, holistic experience of loss. nodding to a larger, shared sense of mourning, of a community, a nation. It really depends on the scale of death, whether it is thousands (58,195 or 2,977), hundreds (168 or 184), or one.

By remembering 100 otherwise unrelated deaths with one La Sombra, Margolles appears to have found a new scale for memorialization: a memorial unit that modulates between societal tragedy and individual loss. [I just remembered that the Pentagon Memorial actually called the benches "memorial units".]

There were not just 100 people killed in LA with guns in the 18 months Margolles bracketed; there were 975. Even if it was just because of the prohibitive the logistics of washing down all those murder sites, the artist knew her temporary memorial alone could not account for that "scale of what has happened." She'd need nine more La Sombras, just in LA. With an average of 55 people being killed each month, that's another La Sombras every two months.

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Imagine these 3-meter tall Judd concrete sculptures at Chinati are actually 6-meter tall Margolles La Sombras, each commemorating 100 people killed with guns. image: chinati.org

And now scale them up. There are 30,000 gun deaths in the US-half a Vietnam War or ten September 11ths-each year. Margolles' La Sombra could be the optimal form and size for memorializing the people killed by gun violence across the country. But some details would need to be worked out. How far back in time do we go? We could need thousands of La Sombras right from the start. Seems impractical, at least at first.

Where should they be placed? Do we combine them all into one sprawling site, like an AIDS Quilt of concrete, an ever-growing Holocaust Memorial for a slaughter we refuse to stop? I think a La Sombra site could take into account the hundred people it memorializes within a city or perhaps a state, without getting too granular with your data; you wouldn't want them to pile up and stigmatize a neighborhood, though having a few together could totally work.

Spread them out at least a bit. Though maybe a city or state could decide to stack them up in a public space, magnify their presence, so the absence of the dead can't be ignored. Of course, you'd also want to avoid gamifying them, having them treated as kills to be racked up by violent forces in society, or even just a run-of-the-mill gun-toting psychokiller. They need to stay present in the landscape, but also just ominous and uncomfortable enough to prick the consciences of we who remain.

An artist's imposing new monument at Echo Park Lake honors Angelenos killed in violent crimes [latimes]
Current: LA Water, LA's Public Art Biennial, runs through August 14. [currentla.org]

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"Untitled" (Death By Gun), 1990, endless. collection: moma.org

We've come to reading the names of the dead, to intone them, as a form of memorial.

I've never felt Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Death By Gun) was a memorial per se, more a statement. Remembering for different ends. But following the massacre of Latinx gay people at Orlando's Pulse night club, and the subsequent readings of their names, it occurred to me that I'd never read and did not remember the names of the people who appeared on Felix's 1990 stack piece.

I looked for the original Time magazine article that was the artist's source, and I couldn't find it online. I couldn't find it in libraries. I ended up buying an old print edition of the magazine itself on eBay. July 17, 1989.

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And I transcribed the names of the 460 people who were killed in the US the first week of May 1989, the week Time chose to document, in the order Felix chose to lay them out, and had them read aloud by a computer.

Download Better_Read_008_Death_By_Gun_20160620.mp3 from dropbox [dropbox.com, 16.7mb mp3, 11:37]

Previously:
Better Read #007: Spinoza's Ethica from Sturtevant's Vertical Monad
Better Read #006: The Jetty Foundation Presents, Send Me Your Money
Better Read #005: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up
Better Read #004: Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland, a Zine by Brian Sholis
Better Read #003: Sincerely Yours, An Epic Scholarly Smackdown By Rosalind Krauss
Better Read #002: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968
the Ur-Better Read: W.H. Auden's The Shield Of Achilles, Read By A Machine

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"Untitled" (Republican Years), 1992

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"Untitled" (NRA), 1991, collection: Astrup Fearnley Museet

25 years of this.

April 18, 2016

⌘S

About five years ago I began collecting dead websites. It started in 2010 with Thomas Hirschhorn, after his first website, made for the Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival in Amsterdam, disappeared from the net. The Spinoza project was the third in a series of temporary projects dedicated to philosophers.

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Hirschhorn calls these "presence and production" works. Here is a 2009 interview with Ross Birrell:

"Presence" and "Production" are terms I use for specific projects which require my presence and my production. It means to make a physical statement here and now.
I believe that only with presence - my presence - and only with production - my production - can I provoke through my work, an impact on the field.
When the project is over, the programs end, the materials are dispersed, the artist moves on, and a couple of months later, the website where the entire thing had been documented disappears. Then the links go dead, the URL expires, and gets scooped up by some zombie ad network. All that remains are some jpgs illustrating Marcus Steinweg's Bijlmer lectures.

I'd been to the first at Documenta, the Bataille Monument, in 2002, but not the Spinoza Festival, and so the website was it for me. I'd wanted to read and see more, longer. And then I discovered I couldn't. It was gone.

crystal_gregorg_screenshot.jpg

So when Hirschhorn launched his second website the next year, for CRYSTAL OF RESISTANCE, the Swiss Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, I was ready. Almost. I grabbed the whole site several times, but l missed some galleries. And then it was gone.

The GRAMSCI MONUMENT site in 2013, I definitely got that one. And Hirschhorn's project at the Palais de Tokyo in 2014, FLAMME ETERNELLE, I got that one too.

landart_gregorg_screenshot.jpg

When the greatest website in the world got edited into oblivion, I grabbed it from the Internet Archive and made a piece out of it last year: Untitled (Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide).

Then a few months ago I heard MOCA had deleted the informative and interactive mini-site for Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon's Land Art show, so I rebuilt that one. Or I'm in process. I still have to reconnect the Google Earth links. [Google's deprecated KML API may have led to the page's demise.]

This is how I started posting them as subdomains, similar to found texts or found web objects. In the case of Hirschhorn, I was very aware since Venice that these were different, and very much not his work: "This website is neither an artwork, nor part of the artwork <>", it said on the front of the site.

But wasn't, but now it was, but of a different work. Hirschhorn's projects required his presence and his production, and my sites had neither. They appeared the same but were the opposite.

monument-gregorg_screenshot.jpg

They weren't just for me anymore. At least I didn't have to think so.

I do edit them, leave my mark, track changes, in the text somewhere, or the source, in ways that are invisible or imperceptible, where I imagine literally no one will ever know or care. At one point, in a more cynical mood, I rewrote the entire Gramsci Monument to be entirely about me. But the more I consider Hirschhorn's practice, the less sure I am that the gesture works as critique. [Of him, anyway. Of me, OTOH... At least I kept a clean version too.]

For example, here is something I wrote in the source of Ends of the Earth:

Though it is still available on the Internet Archive, this is the kind of thing that should, I feel, exist within an art context. It is too off-the-cuff to imagine these two mirrors as a site and non-site, but that is an apt reference, I won't throw it out. What ultimately motivates this repetition of the site is a bafflement at why MOCA removed it in the first place. Huge shoutout to Kim Drew (@museummammy) for calling this to my attention.

I just feel like I have to grab these things, even the ones that get scraped into the Internet Archive. It's an urge that I can't dismiss, even when I can recognize the futility of it. I have to save them.

It's just one word in one tweet, so it really shouldn't become the point, but those who follow me on Twitter know I have a thing for the language of art news sites, and their poetic idiocies of the market. This, however, just pissed me off.

It is as pure a sign as you'll find of the pathology of current money-fixated art world that last night a half dozen media outlets filed hundreds of bid-by-bid tweets from an Impressionism auction, yet the "bizarre news" is that artists are literally trying to save lives by drawing attention to one of Europe's existential political crises.

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I had never heard of the Center for Political Beauty before this morning. They are the artist collective whose mission is to engage "in the most innovative forms of political art: a type of art that hurts, provokes and rises in revolt in order to save human lives."

They removed crosses commemorating some of the East Germans killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall, and have reinstalled them on what they're calling the European Wall. The Center for Political Beauty has announced that they will cut down portions of the EU's border fence on November 9th, during the official ceremonies surrounding the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin_Border_Political_Beauty.jpg
">politicalbeauty.de: Keine Benutzung der Bilder ohne vorherige Genehmigung!

The photo above of a cross on a fence along the Bulgaria-Turkey border is circulating with the AFP wire service story that is the lone, primary source of English-language coverage of CPB's project. I'll never look at a Cy Twombly chalkboard painting the same way again.

Berlin_Wall_Cross_Ingo_PoliticalBeauty.jpg

The images and details that don't circulate, though, are more damning: At least 136 people died or were killed trying to escape across the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989. The UNHCR says over 2,500 Africans trying to reach Europe have drowned or gone missing this year alone. The CPB says the number of people who have died trying to enter the EU since 1989 stands at over 30,000.

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Here is a photo by Massimo Sestini of a boatful of African and Syrian asylum seekers who were intercepted by the Italian navy last June. This situation is anything else--an outrage, a humanitarian crisis, a "rendering void of the legacy of the Holocaust," as the CPB puts it, but it is not bizarre.

And artnet should be shamed for their tendentious attempts to mock and marginalize artists pursuing something beyond the callow complacencies of the market.

UPDATE: I'm still not satisfied with this yet, or how or why it bothers me, but I'm reading Thierry du Duve's "Art in the Face of Radical Evil" [October, Summer 2008, pdf], about MoMA acquiring and showing photos of Khmer Rouge execution victims from Tuol Sleng, and about whether they're "art," and what are the implications if they are:

Sobriety in exhibition design, noncommittal wall texts, and clever avoidance of the word "art" in press releases won't succeed in hiding the fact that our aesthetic interest in photography is shot through with feelings, emotions, and projections of sympathy or antipathy that address the people in the photos beyond the photos themselves. I am convinced that something of that emotional response to the properly human ordeal of the subjects in the Tuol Sleng photos had a say in MoMA's decision to acquire them. To suppose otherwise would be to lend the acquisition committee undeserved cynicism.
This feels like it's inching closer.

Now that I've read up on it, and on the philosopher's harrowing last days, I think I experienced the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain the only way it really should be experienced: by total accident. Which is almost impossible.

We'd been visiting family in Provence, and one of the kids, the one who has been taking Spanish, not French, was wanting to go somewhere they spoke her language for a change. Plus, they wanted to go to the beach. Relenting, I pulled up the last town I knew in France, Banyuls, and looked to see what, if anything, was across the border.

The answer was Portbou. Google Maps said it was 3.5 hours away; we figured we'd drive to Spain for lunch and a couple of hours on the beach, send a postcard, and head home for dinner. Extraordinary traffic which had the autoroute backed up for several kilometers before the border, and the caravan of caravans winding along the 1.5 lane coastal mountain road, easily doubled our drivetime, and we arrived in Portbou starving and almost late for lunch.

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We quickly parked in a massive tunnel-turned-one-way parking lot, and wandered back through town to find any open cafe. And that's when I spotted the Walter Benjamin information panel. It turned out to be No. 2 on the town's four-stop Ruta Walter Benjamin, the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin and his fellow refugees stayed after sneaking across the Spanish border in September 1940. And where he, where, well, as the panel puts it, "What happened over the next few hours is a striking illustration of all of the tragedy of barbarism."

This town has erected a plaque in front of the hotel where Benjamin killed himself.

September 13, 2013

A Vested Interest

Josh Marshall solicited "What's Your 9/11" thoughts from the readers of Talking Points Memo. I've avoided reading them, and most such other efforts this week. But the title he gave to reader DE's submission really encapsulated my own ambivalence about what the Memorial Industrial Complex has metastasized into, and why I'm reluctant to turn myself over to it:

So my personal unease with 9/11 memorials is the feeling that there are a lot of people in this country with a vested interest in the country not moving on, even though the two main perpetrators of the attack are either dead or in US custody and the organization they led has been soundly defeated. They want our leaders to keep delivering the Gettysburg Address every year, to keep us on that war footing, so that they can misdirect our resources and some Americans' lives in the service of foreign and domestic policy goals that have nothing to do with what happened on 9/11.
This manipulation of memorialization by keeping the wounds open was quickly apparent to some, of course. For all the good that did.

"A Vested Interest in the Country Not Moving On." [tpm]

kahn_nyc_jews_memorial.jpg

I recently came across this photo of Louis Kahn's "Monument To The Six Million Jewish Martyrs," which, I had no idea. And it was to be built in New York City, Battery Park, to be exact, and was perhaps the last best chance for an apparently serially disastrous effort to build a Holocaust memorial in the city. Ultimately, of course, the city did get the Jewish Memorial Museum in the 1990s, in Battery Park.

There is no doubt a story to tell about the tumultuous history of that process. And I'm sure someone has already written a decisive history of how people attempted to grapple with the Shoah and Holocaust as history, and how and when those concepts took hold. Because they're absent from the contemporary discussion of this memorial. But what really sticks with me is the story and particulars of Kahn's memorial design, and how resonant it seems with memorials followed it.

Kahn was recommended by an Art Advisory Committee [via Philip Johnson] that had been brought in in 1966 to help the Committee to Commemorate the Six Million Jewish Martyrs solve their seemingly impossible charge: creating a suitable memorial to genocide. The NY Times' architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable complained that the previous designs were full of "wrenching angst" in which "the agony and the art were almost too much to bear."

After the City Art Commission approved it, Kahn's 6-foot model was put on impromptu display in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art for month, from Oct-Nov. 1968. Which is when Huxtable praised as architecture and sculpture "of the highest order":

In an age that has made a flat mockery of conventional memorial values and platitudes, Mr. Kahn's solution is a cool, abstract, poetic, powerful and absolute statement of the unspeakable tragedy. It could rank with the great works of commemorative art in which man has attempted to capture spirit, in symbol. for the ages.
And in case you needed any more reminder that memorials are as much an expression of the time they're created, not just the history they mark, here's Huxtable's final judgment:
The generation that lived through the time and events the monument proposes to commemorate will never forget them. We have that memorial seared in our souls.

The generations that are innocent of this kind of totalitarianism and ultimate tragedy will find no monument meaningful. That is one of the anachronisms of art and history in an age of violence.

This memorial could work, as art and as history, and as a lasting expression of the human spirit. In a nihilistic, value-destroying society, that is no mean artistic accomplishment.

Yow, no Summer of Love here.

Kahn's Monument was to consist of seven 10x10 squares, 11 feet high, made entirely of elongated, cast glass brick, and arranged 2-3-2 on a 66-ft square grey granite plinth. [His original design, presented to the Committee in 1967, called for nine 12x12x15 squares in a grid. I think the switch to 6+1 was a way to Judaize and particularlize the memorial's content.] The translucent bricks meant that the blocks would change with light, weather, and the presence and movement of people around the site. Only the center cube would be inscribed and accessible; as Kahn put it, "The one, the chapel, speaks; the other six are silent."

I think Kahn's 1967 proposal is at least one of the earliest, if not the first, deployments of Minimalism in a memorial context. Or maybe Post-Minimalism is more accurate, since Kahn's evocative forms and their deliberate emotional and experiential evocations were anathema to the objective Gestaltism of orthodox Minimalism as it was being argued out at the time.

If the history of using a Minimalist formal vocabulary for intractable memorials typically began with Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial, then Kahn's Monument pushes it back 15 years--to the conflict-torn heart of the Vietnam era. And though it wasn't realized as he envisioned, Kahn's proposal was influential. It's the best explanation I can see for for the use of glass block in New York State's disappointing Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Water Street in lower Manhattan. [That memorial's plaza siting was probably also influenced by Huxtable's unequivocal condemnation of the Battery Park site for Kahn's memorial, an insurmountable criticism which probably doomed the design she praised so highly.] More directly, though, Kahn seems like a direct progenitor for the two most prominent Holocaust memorials built in Europe to date.

whiteread_judenplatz_memorial.jpg

Kahn's formal references to the silenced, the room-scale, and the bookshelf-like bands of glass brick are all echoed in Rachel Whiteread's Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, where a ghostly library of books the city's murdered Jews will never write stands on a plinth in a public square in Vienna. Whiteread's memorial has obvious precedents in her own sculptural practice, and I've never seen her mention Kahn as an inspiration, so it's entirely possible that these resonances are natural and widely held, and which the artist and architect arrived at separately.

eisenman_memorial_godfrey.jpg
Amazing shot of Peter Eisenman at the 2004 opening of his Berlin Memorial from Mark Godfrey's book, Abstraction and The Holocaust

I can't believe that's what went down, however, with Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra. From its central formal device--passages between impenetrable, figure-dwarfing blocks--to its title, Memorial to the Six MIllion Murdered Jews of Europe, Eisenman and Serra [who subsquently removed his name from the project] had to have been very familiar with Kahn's proposal, and with the politically fraught development process that spawned it.


Oh, look, Mark Godfrey's 2007 book Abstraction and the Holocaust has an entire chapter on Kahn's Monument. [amazon, google books]
Anthony Vidler wrote about Kahn's memorials [cooper.edu]
The Louis Kahn Collection at UPenn has drawings and a different model of the memorial. [upenn.edu]

September 26, 2012

Shrapnel Bench By BarberOsgerby

barberosgerby_bench_vanda_dezeen.jpg

Speaking of violence and sculptural street furniture, the design team of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby and Tor Studios made one of a series of commissioned benches for the Victoria & Albert Museum during the London Design Festival. It is an elegantly pockmarked block of Carrara marble.

They were inspired by shrapnel marks left in the V&A museum's western facade after the Second World War. "It's something that always fascinated me and Ed on the way from South Kensington tube up to the Royal College when we were students, and so when this project came up we thought it was a nice way to reference that," explained Jay Osgerby at the opening.
Indeed, the splash page for the duo's website is currently an image of the shrapnel marks.

barber_osgerby_shrapnel.jpg

Which, of course, immediately brings to mind the facade of JP Morgan's former headquarters, 23 Wall Street. The building was damaged by an explosion on Sept. 16, 1920, that was believed to be carried out by Italian anarchists. A donkey cart laden with 100 lbs of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron window sash counterweights exploded at 12:01, killing 38 and injuring more than 143 people on the street and in the building.

23_wall_st_shrapnel.jpg

Morgan refused to repair the shrapnel marks, which are still visible on the pink marble Wall St. facade to this day. The building, long vacant, is currently being marketed as a retail site, perhaps for a department or Apple store.

Bench Years by Established & Sons at the V&A museum [dezeen]

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Category: documenta, et al

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