For some reason, I can’t get my idea for the memorial at the World Trade Center out of my head. I’ll read about the intensifying folly that’s engulfing redevelopment plans for the site; the dilution of the “winning” memorial design; the inexorable contortions the site plans undergo to meet the Port Authority’s political and commercial objectives–those invisibly sacrosanct elements of the rebuilding process which were never open to question, as if what the terrorists really hated was our 10 million square foot program–and I see the people who were killed going missing all over again. And I feel a quixotic [or is it sisyphean?] obligation to do something about it.
I hear craven politicians accuse their opponents of terrorism who seek to preserve the rule of law, and I think that the memories of people who were killed by terrorists are being chewed up and churned underfoot, like the oft-reburied bodies of the first soldiers to die in the Somme, whose graves were turned into trenches and back as the battle lines ebbed and surged for years across the landscape.
I grab a quick salad late in the afternoon of March 11th and feel compelled to interrupt the people speaking Spanish next to me if they’re from Spain, and when they say yes, Madrid, and I tell them I’m sad for what happened, they tell me thanks, I’m the first person to mention it to them all day. This, in New York City. We are forgetting, the people killed that day and who sacrificed their lives are blurring into indistinct, historical shadows, remembered by handfuls of friends, family, colleagues, the population of whom will eventually diminish and die.
So I find myself thinking–still–of how I could pull it off, somehow realizing my memorial competition entry. I think about gathering and crunching the requisite individual data from the various departments in the Bureau of Heroes of September 11th, in order to map the details of each individual’s approach to the WTC that morning: his subway stop, her subway staircase, his coffee shop, his encounter with a colleague in the elevator, his firetruck’s parking spot and his rendezvous point in which tower lobby.
I think about how the memorial could be unintrusive enough for an incarnation to inhabit the site someday, no matter what is ever built there. I think about how some day mapping out each individual’s footprints–and identifying the precise x,y,z coordinates they inhabited that last morning would work both with and against the politically sanctified footprints of the towers themselves to remember them. The people, that is.
I see something like Sascha Pohflepp’s 2002 project, Echo— which uses reflective paint visible only at night and from certain angles to mark the politically charged changes of street names in Berlin–and I think, could my memorial design some day, somehow, infiltrate the site, could the footprints of those people be made visible there some day, at least to people who cared to look?
I wonder, too, how long is it healthy to keep thinking about this idea, which is not a project, just an idea, and at what point does it cross into pathology? Or at least weirdness? After all, grand public rituals–the design and memorial competitions, various groundbreakings–were designed to move us all along, nothing to see here. And while it’s not a story that’s on the front page of my mind every day, it certainly turns up in my A-section with a frequency that’d earn a Times editor or CNN producer a concerned call from upstairs.
I wouldn’t be so worried, except that I’ve recently had a lot of fun at the expense of a couple of people who doggedly pursued their supremely irrational project for 25 years before finally realizing it. And if you think about it, what’s more ridiculous than burning decades pursuing an obsessive dream? Pursuing it and not achieving it, I guess.
Echo, by Sascha Pohflepp [via we make money not art]
My WTC Memorial proposal
[update: then there’s the guy who spent 18 years making Houston’s famous beer can house. great.]