Category:memorials

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In 1973, Chris Burden bought a month worth of late-night ad time on a local TV station in Los Angeles, and aired a 10-second film clip of Through the Night Softly, a performance where Burden, clad only in bikini underwear, crawls across a parking lot full of broken glass with his hands behind his back.

Below is a video of Burden explaining the work, its background, and its reception. [It's taken from a 35-min. compilation reel where the artist documents some of his performance pieces from 1971-4, which he exhibited in 1975. The whole thing is at UbuWeb.]

The poetic title, Through the Night Softly is mentioned in an intertitle in the commercial itself, but the piece is treated separately. Burden calls it "TV Ad," and "TV Ad piece," as in "The TV Ad piece came out of a longstanding desire to be on television." Burden's ad is preceded by a Ronco record ad and followed--almost too perfectly--by another naked guy, lathering up in a soap commercial.

In retrospect, Burden's ideas for the piece are almost quaint. He wanted to be on "real TV," which he defined at the time as "anything you could flip to on a dial. Anything else--cable, educational, video--was not real TV."

And he also expressed "satisfaction" at knowing that 250,000 people a night would see his video "stick out like a sore thumb" and "know that something was amiss."

The juxtapositions certainly look absurd, or surreal, anyway, but did the work really generate the cognitive dissonance Burden hoped for? The artist's action in the film reminds me immediately of the kind of head-down, low army crawl that would have been a familiar experience for veterans--and a common sight from news coverage of Vietnam, the "First Televised War," which was, by 1973, one of the longest-running shows on the air.

I haven't really read much about Burden in terms of politically charged art, and his slightly self-absorbed narrations of these early, controversial pieces don't betray any real hints of the political references--about crime, gun control. domestic violence, war, Vietnam--that have been ascribed to them.

Still, Burden made directly political work later on--the video I linked to yesterday shows him talking about The Reason for The Neutron Bomb (1979) and how he used 50,000 nickels and matchsticks instead of commissioning 50,000 toy tanks because being stuck with a garageful of toy tanks was as the same kind of crazy as amassing the real things on Europe's border, just on a different scale.

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And his 1992 work, The Other Vietnam Memorial, The giant copper Rolodex containing three million computer-generated Vietnamese names, representing the missing and killed--soldiers and civilians alike--who weren't mentioned on Maya Lin's walls, blew my mind when I saw it in 1992 at MoMA.

As Christopher Knight pointed out at the time [in the run-up and aftermath of what would later be renamed the First Gulf War], the power of Burden's work lay in its contrast to the gut-wrenching personalization of The Vietnam Memorial, its unflinchingly cold acknowledgment of Americans' general lack of interest in the specifics of the wars being fought in our name:

Transcending topical politics, the hoary conception of a Homogeneous Us versus an Alien Them allowed the fruitless slaughter. "The Other Vietnam Memorial" is as much an officially sanctioned tribute to American fear, ambition and loathing as it is to slain men and women. Its shocking moral ambivalence is the source of its riveting power.
It all makes me want to see a Burden retrospective on The Mall. Would the Hirshhorn or the National Gallery ever be up for the challenge? Come for the flying steamroller and the Erector set skyscrapers, stay for the excoriation of our national indifference to the predations of the Military Industrial Complex? Hmm, the pitch might need a little work.

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This gorgeous Darren Almond photograph, Infinite Betweens: Becoming Between, Phase 3, of an impossible-to-map landscape covered with Tibetan prayer flags is coming up at Philips in a couple of weeks. It reminded me how quietly strong his work is, and how his underlying interests in time, place, memory, and the human experience of them resonates with me. I just watched his Tate Talk from 2005 which, though it was a good primer on his film work, was pretty thin on insight. Almond is a pretty reticent guy on stage, and except for his discussion of his project of relocating Auschwitz bus stations into the gallery, it's only at the end when someone in the audience asks him about memory that he kind of lights up.

While trying to track down a long, deep-sounding quote from his grandmother, I found Brad Barnes' interview with Almond on Kultureflash, which was apparently conducted the next day:

BB: I think I know what you mean by seeking a "reassurance". Is that the grandfather alluded to in If I had you?

DA: Yes it is. "A much loved man" as carved on his head stone. For me he supplied much of my early field of memory. The terrain of his own life's experiences he passed on as we were very close. The whole notion of travel for instance came from him albeit that he was serving in the army during the WWII he then revisited the towns throughout Belgium, France and Germany after the war and maintained friendships with people he met through the war. During the procedure of trying to make If I had you my grandmother and I shared our feelings that we still had for him and in fact they were feelings generated by memory only so a shared local memory does provide a certain reassurance. I hoped that despite an increment of melancholia produced in If I had you I also hoped that it would provide a certain optimism. I like a statement that was produced to me last night at my talk at the Tate, "the vision for the future is not utopia it is a re-interpreted 'telling' of the now. Memory is not exactly the site of freedom, but the layering of identity and memory is a basis for moving forward. The limit for this is language itself."

Previously from 2002: wow, family, travel, memory, Auschwitz bus stops. I just wanted to add a "Previous Darren Almond mentions" link, but it's all kind of circling back.

Have Mexican artists ever met an obelisk they didn't want to make portable and drive to New York?

Obelisco Transportable, 2004, Damian Ortega, on view with the Public Art Fund, thru 10/28 [image: Ortega's gallery, kurimanzutto]:

ortega_obelisco.jpg

Portable Broken Obelisk (for outdoor markets), 1993-4, Eduardo Abaroa, on view at"Mexico City" @ PS1, Summer 2002 [image: Abaroa's gallery, kurimanzutto]:

Abaroa_Obelisco.jpg

from Pruned:

We can't help here suggesting that Ortega should give Ikea permission to mass produce and sell his reusable memorials, because, firstly, we like to imagine them multiplying exponentially in public spaces everywhere (and no, there is still not nearly enough memorials), and, secondly, we also like the image of people scouring the city--a sort of pre-funerary cortege mixed in with some urban sightseeing--for an abandoned obelisk, one commemorating something already forgotten in the collective memory.
sam_durant_obelisks.jpg
Which suddenly reminds me of Sam Durant's powerful, obelisk-filled 2005 show at Paula Cooper. [Here's Jerry Saltz's review] Titled, "Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, D.C.," Durant's idea was to move all the obelisks and markers from their far-flung battlefield and massacre locations and arrange them on the Mall in DC. I know, I know: technically, Durant's not Mexican. But he IS from LA. Also, Indians are brown.

2016 update: I'm re-reading this in preparation for linking to it, and I cannot figure out wtf I meant by that last line, about Indians being brown. Maybe it was a reference to the "White and Indian" in Durant's title? I have no idea, but reading it cold right now, it sounds more racist, certainly more insensitive, than I would have thought at the time. Time does that, I guess.

mothership_brandgrens.jpg

As part of Rotterdam 2007 - City of Architecture, the city commemorated the 15-minute-long German bombing on May 14, 1940 that destroyed the city center, precipitated the Dutch surrender in WWII--and ultimately provided the occasion for all that new architecture. The area destroyed by the bombs and the ensuing firestorm is demarcated by the Brandgrens, or Fire Limits:

The Fire Limits
14.05.2007

On Monday 14 May, in the evening, Rotterdam 2007 City of Architecture will illuminate the fire limits of Rotterdam’s city centre with over one hundred light beams.

The fire limits mark the areas of the city that were destroyed by the bombing on 14 May 1940 and the ensuing fires that broke out. From 10.45 pm a blaze of light beams on these boundaries will light up the skies, making the true impact of this devastating event visible throughout the entire city.

The bombing ‘only’ lasted fifteen minutes but managed to destroy practically all of Rotterdam’s city centre. Even before the war ended, it was decided not to replicate pre-war Rotterdam when reconstruction began, but to turn the city into a modern, revitalised city. The fire limits highlight the differences between the old and the new in many places in the city centre, which although visible, have never been experienced as a whole before. On 14 May 2007, the art producer Mothership will illuminate the entire fire limits, stretching almost 12 kilometres, turning this historic event into a sight that everyone can see.

Such a prominent spatial use of spotlights as a memorial these days obviously evokes references to the Towers of Light memorial. Like the World Trade Center version, this project, produced by the art collective Mothership, is intended as a temporary, ephemeral precursor to a permanent memorial demarcating the Brandgrens. But that's actually not the most interesting part of this project for me.

firelimits_mothership.jpg

Though the memorial's official path through the city was only recognized in February, the idea of the Brandgrens has been as integral to the post-war identity of Rotterdam. The Fire Limits [or as Mothership translates with a bit more thesaurian flair, Bombardment Periphery; Babelfish translates Brandgrens as "Fire Boundaries"] is a commemoration of a Nazi attack that uses the Nazis' own vocabulary of spectacle, specifically Albert Speer's 1934 Lichtdom, the Cathedral of Light, at Nuremburg. The rendering [above] reads almost like a direct quote of Lichtdom, in fact.

Lichtdom.jpg

As it turned out, Bombardment Periphery looked uncannily like a re-creation of a nighttime bombing, with evocations of anti-aircraft searchlights, groundlevel glow, and illuminated cloud cover. I'd be very interested to hear what the reaction was to this event [the commemorating, that is, not the attack.]

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It's a bit absurd, but the first image that comes up in my search for night-time air raid photos was from Los Angeles.

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In the early morning of February 25, 1942, unidentified flying objects were spotted over Los Angeles, triggering a massive anti-aircraft barrage that killed three civilians [three more died of heart attacks] and sparked a flood of bitter criticism and controversy. No definitive explanation has ever been made of the objects. The incident was inspiration for Steven Spielberg's comedy [sic], 1941.

The caption for this photo, which ran on the front page of the LA Times, is incredible:

Scores of searchlights built a wigwam of light beams over Los Angeles early yesterday morning during the alarm. This picture was taken during blackout; shows nine beams converging on an object in sky in Culver City area. The blobs of light which show at apex of beam angles were made by anti-aircraft shells.
The obvious question, of course: Is next February 25th too soon for someone to recreate a wigwam of light beams over Culver City?

Bombardment Periphery Gallery [enterthemothership.com]
Rotterdam2007: The Fire Limits [rotterdam2007.nl]
West Coast Air Raid [wikipedia]

First, a cautionary tale about the what "just-the-facts"-driven memorials (e.g., victims' tallies, 92 trees for 92 countries, etc.) inadvertently reveal about the times and people who made them. Muschamp, meanwhile, hits some right notes with what symbol-laden memorials inadvertently reveal about the politics and people who make them.

Related: My post last year on how the data in the Pentagon Memorial competition guidelines substantially dictated the designs.

Peter Max, who presumably made art protesting the Vietnam war during his cosmic 60's hippy days, clearly found alternate paths to self-actualization, paths which lead to becoming The Official Artist for any and every sense-free bureaucracy he could find.

Peter Max's treacly WTC fundraising poster, image: petermax.com
With all the service he's given the Federal Government--including the INS and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission--perhaps he was under the impression that he didn't need to pay income taxes on that $1.1 million. [And when you realize Max's sentence was teaching art to schoolchildren, you wonder who really paid for his crimes: the artist or the kids?]

Anyway, now that that pesky expert jury has disbanded, the talent-blind administrators of the Pentagon Memorial project got back to business as usual, namely, commissioning an Official Piece Of Crap from Peter Max. According to the WashPost, the Peter Max Pentagon Memorial Fundraising Poster will be available for sale at http://www.att.com/mil [Q: Isn't that page's title, "AT&T Military Headquarters," exactly what Ike warned us about?], which is unusual, since Max's most widely distributed recent work was the cover of a Verizon phone book.

The most annoying thing: At one time, the Military Industrial Complex did produce some amazing art.

[thanks, Tyler, for just ruining my day]

USS Arizona Memorial, image: nps.gov

In today's NYTimes, Sam Roberts looks for Lessons for the World Trade Center Memorial" in the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. I don't know what he finds, though. Opened on Memorial Day, 1962, four years after Eisenhower authorized a memorial at the site, and more than 20 years after the actual attack, the Arizona Memorial is more the product of inertia and circumstance than of design. The Arizona remained in place partly out of respect, but also because technology didn't exist to raise her. Honolulu architect Alfred Preis' design was selected from among 96 submissions in a public competition.

Over 6,000 people have registered for the WTC Memorial competition, Roberts reports.

And on the front page of the Washington Post, Timothy Dwyer profiles Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, the young NY architects who won last year's Pentagon Memorial competition [see related posts and links here.]

Air Force Memorial, James Ingo Freed, image:af.mil

Earlier this month, the Air Force unveiled James Ingo Freed's design for the Air Force Memorial, which will be located on a ridge overlooking the Pentagon and the Pentagon's own recently announced September 11th Memorial. The design is inspired by fighter jet contrails, which I can't complain about, since my disappointment with the 9/11 memorial competition drove me to a similar--but more jarring, and far less elegant--concept for the Pentagon Memorial.

What I objected to was the many designs' near-total emphasis on the individuals who died, to the exclusion of the greater import of the event. What turned out to be the winning design, in fact, was the apotheosis of this trend; it features 184 "memorial units," aka benches, with individually lighted reflecting pools. I blame a bathetic misreading and misapplication of Maya Lin's minimalist memorial language. But I've written a lot of this before.

What's new, though, is Bradford McKee's piece in Slate, where he points out an other, more fundamental flaw in the Memorial plan: no one will be able to actually visit. The Pentagon's chosen site is essentially inaccessible, for both logistical and security reasons. Oh, and it's right next to a noisy highway.

To imagine the resulting memorial's best case scenario, just look at the completely unvisited Navy and Marine Memorial, which is located on the Potomac in the Ladybird Johnson Memorial Park, part of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove, aka the landscaping along the highway.

model for Kaseman Beckman Pentagon Memorial design, image: defenselink.mil

And the winner is: A proposal by Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, two recent Columbia grads, to build 184 "memorial units" in a grove of maple trees. Interesting details: All benches are aligned with the flight path of AA77. Memorial units for those who died on the plane cantilever away from the building, while units for those who died in the Pentagon cantilever away toward it.

Read the Wash. Post article, including comments by the designers and jury chief/MoMA architecture curator Terence Riley. Read Post critic Benjamin Forgey's generally positive review. Read my greg.org posts about my frustration with the hyper-individualization of memorials, follow competition links, and see my rash design response.


Irish Hunger Monument, by David F. Gallagher, lightningfield.com

On his photo weblog lightningfield, David Gallagher published some photos and reviews of the Irish Hunger Monument which opened this summer in Battery Park City. The Monument is designed by artist Brian Tolle, whose idea was to create a 1/4 acre plot of Irish farmland in Manhattan. This patently artificial landscape recalls the British land policies which exacerbated the Irish potato famine of the 1840's. Critical response to the monument has been mixed, but I have to appreciate the work's solid conceptual basis. There's a cautionary tale here, though, about how to deal with constituent and political exigencies; according to one reporter's account, Tolle argued against several elements which have come under criticism. (When a monument brags about having "nearly two miles of text," feel free to worry.)

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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.

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about this archive

Category: memorials

recent projects, &c.


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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017


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Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

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Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

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Chop Shop
at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

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eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
about

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Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots


HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.


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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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Canal Zone Richard
Prince YES RASTA:
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
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