Cretto Street View

cretto_gmaps1.jpg
Christopher Knight took the occasion of an Alberto Burri retrospective in Santa Monica to tweet about Cretto, the artist’s absolutely incredible 20-acre memorial/earthwork, in which the earthquake ruins of the Sicilian town of Gibellina were encased in a grid of concrete. I’d mentioned Cretto in 2006, including a basic Google Map image.
cretto_gmap.jpg
Well, Street View has come to Gibellina. At some point, I suspect no one will marvel at the idea of using your laptop to drive around the backroads of Sicily, or to dive into geotagged photos of remote land artworks. But that point is not yet. The Street View images in particular have a great, desaturated feel that makes me imagine I’m right there for the ribboncutting. The future and the past is now.
Cretto, Alberto Burri/Ruins of Gibellina [google maps]
Related: finding Double Negative has never been easier

Some Pointers, Or What To Do With Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama Center?

neutra_cyclorama_wide.jpg
The Park Service’s stated goal for Gettysburg is the “rehabilitation” of the battlefield to its 1863 condition by removing modern structures like Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama Center [designed, it should have been noted a long time ago, with Robert Alexander] and the visitors center next to it [already gone] which are built on “hallowed ground.” Which is not quite so simple.
In Gettysburg: memory, market and an American shrine, his 2003 history of the ongoing cultural battle over the site and its meaning, Jim Weeks looked at the controversy over the Park Service plan to create a big, new privately operated visitor center/museum offsite. This wasn’t “Disneyfication,” it was, in the words of John Latscher, the Gettysburg superintendent who spearheaded the deal, “re-sanctifying” the battlefield. [emphasis added on the tiny but powerful rhetorical device that automatically transforms anyone who disagrees into John Wilkes Booth.]
The rehabilitation/re-sanctification plan to remove post-1863 structures does have some loopholes: anything in the middle of the battlefield but on private land across the street, as long as it serves popcorn chicken and/or deliciously dark chocolate pies for a limited time only; the 1392 or 1600 markers and monuments placed by “the veterans themselves,” or whomever; and the three remaining observation towers the War Department built.
gettysburg_war_dept_twr.jpg
Let me go on record that, should it ever be threatened with demolition, I will email every architect and journalist I know to save the observation tower on West Confederate Avenue; that thing is a freaking masterpiece. Let’s get that out there right now, because I don’t find much information or discussion about it at all. [Here’s another of the three, dated 1895, the year the War Dept took charge of the Memorial Park, which is super-short. It looks like there were structural problems, and it was chopped in 1960. Note that it wasn’t torn down completely; I think I’ll come back to that in a minute.]
gettysburg_obstower_det.jpg
What do you get for your steep, 6-7 story climb up the steel cage? A great view, of course. But also understanding. Context. Orientation. It’s the place where people tell stories of troop movements and battle strategies. There is much pointing. All across a vast landscape like this, we saw people orienting themselves, spotting landmarks, and telling stories. They were mapping the action and the meaning, translating history onto the site in front of them.
Weeks’ book notes that observation points have been a popular and vital feature of visitors’ experience at Gettysburg from very early on. Some are natural spots, like the promontories of Little Round Top and the Copse of Trees at Cemetery Ridge. Some were built, like Round Top Park, the War Dept. towers [there used to be five], the Pennsylvania State Monument–and the Cyclorama Center. The biggest observation tower, built on private land, was seized and destroyed in 2000 after an intermittent, 26-year legal battle. Weeks draws the connection between the dioramas and orientation maps, the cycloramas–almost all of which had their origins in commercial/entertainment enterprises–and the site itself; arguably, facilitating this mental transition from representation to site was the major justification for placing the Cyclorama so close to its focal point, the top of Cemetery Ridge, in the first place.
One common feature of these observation points is the orienting device: arrows pointing toward key sites or events. Here is the welded steel plate on the War Dept tower:
gettysburg_obstwr_orient.jpg
gettysburg_pa_arrows1.jpg
Which was the third one I noticed, after [1] the compass mark handcarved into the granite floor and [2] the incredible cast bronze plaques on the parapets of the Pennsylvania State Monument. [Which, by the way, is a gigantic Beaux Art mess, a Columbia Exposition knockoff whose looming, continued presence exposes the whole idea of re-creating the 1863 battlefield to be little more than conceptual cover fire to advance a subjective set of pre-determined alteration strategies.]
gettysburg_pa_arrows_cu.jpg
These arrows, on these structures, point, I believe, to a possible future for Neutra’s Cyclorama: restore and reconfigure it as an observation and orientation platform for Cemetery Ridge. Neutra already included an observation platform and ramp [see house industries’ photo below]; adapting the empty rotunda for observation would hew close to the building’s original function on its original site, while minimizing the loss of Neutra’s and Alexander’s key design elements.
cyclorama_houseind.jpg
Then there’s precedent: the Park Service’s stated strategy of 1863 rehabilitation nevertheless preserves several post-1863 observation structures, including the unassailable Pennsylvania Monument and three of the five towers apparently installed by the War Department at the founding of the Memorial Park. One is apparently historical and/or functional enough to preserve even after being truncated to just one story up–roughly the same height as the Cyclorama’s existing deck.
neutra_cyclorama_houseind_2.jpg
A Cyclorama Observation Platform would also offer something completely unique: accessibility. All other observation spots we saw involved stairs, curbs, or uneven wooded trails. [The Pennsylvania Monument’s vantage point is reached by a single, awesomely treacherous spiral staircase lined with stamped bronze paneling that’d do a SoHo loft ceiling proud.] Much of the battlefield itself–and thus the monuments scattered across it–quickly becomes inaccessible to disabled or wheelchair-using visitors.
An entirely ramp-based observation structure would enhance the battlefield experience for millions of visitors who would otherwise be confined to their cars. [Oh, look! Neutra’s already got two ramps built right in! image above: houseindustries.com]
cubework_neutra_cyclorama.jpg
In fact, a speculative observation platform proposal has already been floated. The Boston-based architecture firm CUBE design + research used Neutra’s Cyclorama Center to illustrate a range of alternatives to strict historical preservation. One idea [above]: turning the Cyclorama as “informant” and “information hub,” by making strategic, view-framing cuts in the rotunda. It’s a pretty radical alteration, the kind of thing that keeps traditional preservationists up at night. And as proposed/rendered, I think many of Cube’s solutions go way too far. But they’re spurring discussion, not answering an RFP, and in that, they succeed.
Piercing Neutra’s rotunda in places might still work, perhaps in combination with another of CUBE’s suggestions, to place the Park Service’s historic electric relief map in the building. Or perhaps a large-scale relief map could be made for blind visitors to gauge the scale and detail of the terrain. In either case, a multi-sensory narrative program could be devised that integrates such artifacts with views out of the building onto the actual battlefield. [Something like the light and sound effects on the new Cyclorama installation, which seem to be state-of-whatever-art-these-sorts-of-things-are.]
olafur_hirshhorn_ext.jpg
Another possibility just came to me this morning: the 2006 proposal Olafur Eliasson made for the Hirshhorn Museum, a similarly love-to-hate, modernist concrete barrel on a major civic site. Eliasson proposed wrapping Gordon Bunshaft’s building with a suspended glass walkway that afforded sprawling views of the National Mall, something akin to the exterior escalator tubes at the Pompidou. [images: from the bookshelf-straining insanity that is Taschen’s Studio Olafur Eliasson: An Encyclopedia.]
olafur_hirshhorn_int.jpg
Maybe an information-filled ramp could spiral up the inside of Neutra’s rotunda–a history of the wounded, perhaps, and their heroism and their tales of endurance and remembrance–and then let visitors out to wind their way down the outside, where they could then descend along the original ramp onto the battlefield itself. At least as far as their wheelchairs can take them.
The Park Service and Gettysburg Foundation claim the current battlefield rehabilitation plan provides great “environmental benefits,” even as the courts find they have failed to undertake the basic impact studies required by law.
Worse than this, though, is the active, and ongoing denial of the equality of us all–by denying equal access to key parts of the battlefield experience, such as observation platforms–on the very battleground of freedom made sacred by the sacrifices of life. And limb.
Next: Observations from/on Towers and The Wound Dresser, set in stone, rest stops on the journey Toward a Cyclorama-shaped Gettysburg Memorial to The Wounded

‘The Largest Collection Of Outdoor Sculpture In The World’

neutra_gettysburg_cyclorama_focal_point_052010.jpg
The significance of the battle at Gettysburg was seized upon almost immediately, both for the vast scale of the casualties, but also because of the strategic and symbolic importance in the North of repelling the Confederate incursion. Dealing with overwhelming death, destruction, and injury immediately overwhelmed the town, and thousands of visitors streamed in to find and help family members.
Efforts to memorialize the battle and secure the battlefield also began immediately. Lincoln’s address just four months later was, after all, at the dedication of the National Solders Cemetery on a fought-over piece of land. Within weeks, historian John Bachelder began interviewing officers and attempting to pinpoint key movements and events leading up to and following the battle. And after the war, he prepared a comprehensive, if unreconciled, report of thousands of interviews and onsite surveys with survivors. Land acquisition also kicked in immediately, and a Gettysburg Battle Memorial Association was quickly formed. Because of its proximity and well-developed transportation, Gettysburg quickly became a popular tourist destination.
Memorials were placed on the battlefield to mark the sites of action engaged by individual regiments in the 1870s, but the pace picked up in the 1880s, as the 25th anniversary of the battle approached. As Wikipedia has it, survivors of the battle returned to the land to remember their individual and collective experiences, and to mark their significant events–battles, movements, victories, deaths–on the site itself:

For the Union side, virtually every regiment, battery, brigade, division, and corps has a monument, generally placed in the portion of the battlefield where that unit made the greatest contribution (as judged by the veterans themselves). Most regiments also have boundary markers placed to show their positions in defensive lines or in the starting lines for their assaults. The placements are not always definitive, due to sometimes faulty memories of the veterans or to the problems resulting from attempts to represent multiple days of battle fought on the same ground, most notably Cemetery Ridge.

When the site was transferred to the War Department, over 1,600 bronze markers were erected, based on the official history of the battle [not Bachelder’s].
neutra_gettysburg_cyclorama_mass_marker_fence_052010.jpg
The non-profit Gettysburg Foundation calls it “The largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.” But it’s even more than that. All these structures, sculptures, and monuments fill the landscape and connote a previous generation’s specific strategy of remembrance. And each, no matter how subjective, seemingly incidental, or retrospectively problematic, now bears the weight of that generation’s history.
Even a fence. At some point in the past, a section [reportedly a quarter of the original size] of the Copse of Trees which was Gen. Lee’s chosen focal point for the Confederate attack was rendered sacred, like a home cemetery, and fenced off from public access. The generic 19th century wrought iron fence, damaged by a fallen tree, but set for restoration, is visible behind this c.1880s War Dept. plaque for the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry:

The position of this regiment in line of battle
is marked by its monument
235 yards due south.
It charged up to this point and attacked Pickett’s
division in flank as his troops were coming
over the stonewall.

The battlefield sprouted other structures alongside these markers and memorials. In 1884, at the height of the Cycloramas’ popularity, the railroad laid tracks across the field of Pickett’s Charge to its new Round Top Park, an entertainment center on Little Round Top. A casino was added in 1913, the year the Boston Cyclorama came to Gettysburg in time for the Great Reunion, a conciliatory event that brought over 50,000 Civil War veterans together at Gettysburg. The veterans from all states re-enacted Pickett’s Charge, which ended with the exchange of handshakes and speeches. [It wasn’t until 1939, after the 75th anniversary, that the amusement park’s structures, and the tracks themselves, were removed.]
After WWII, Pres. Eisenhower’s development of the interstate highway system was coupled with the National Park Service’s Mission 66, a 10-year strategic plan to increase the accessibility of its sites to cars, and to provide high-quality interpretive services for its increasing throngs of visitors. Eisenhower took particular interest in Gettysburg where, while president, he decided to purchase his first home, a farm, precisely because it was built on battlefield ground. He retired to the house in 1959; it is now a presidential memorial within the expanded Military Park.
Thus is the victory of World War II, and the postwar boom, and our modern entertainment experience culture inextricably intertwined with the memorial to the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. And now we have a brief movie lesson by Morgan Freeman, and an economy where the only jobs in town that don’t involve wearing a hoop skirt are selling Civil War Orange Fudge at the Gettysburg Outlet Mall. But as the railroads and casinos and dance halls–and the Cyclorama itself–show, this spectacle- and souvenir-centered culture is not a transformation or desecration, only an upgrade in technology.
neutra_gettysburg_rendering.jpg
Cyclorama Center rendering, Richard Neutra, via mission66.com
But Mission 66 was too much of a good thing. The Park Service has long strained under its visitor volume; some structures were outgrown, others left to decay because of deferred maintenance. Many, like Neutra’s Cyclorama, were built in a mid-century modernist idiom, which preservationists have been slow to preserve, and which the Park Service [currently] hates. According to Mission 66 architectural historian Christine Madrid, the Park Service considers the modernist structures “a post-war mistake.” And they bridle, not only at their historical significance, but at the very notion that the Park Service is not the author and custodian of history, but just the biggest of its many actors.
Next: The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Battlefield

On Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama Center, Or Gettysburg Memorial: The Making Of

neutra_gettysburg_cyclorama_ext_1_052010.jpg
We just got back from a weekend trip to Gettysburg, PA, and I was not quite prepared to be so fascinated by it. Gettysburg the town was attacked the Confederate Army in the Civil War partly because of its symbolic value [as a Northern target], but also because so many roads converged there. It turned out several of the meandering paths I’m interested in converged there, too.
neutra_gettysburg_cyclorama_ext_2_052010.jpg
Without knowing exactly where it was, I was interested in seeing the closed Cyclorama Center, designed in 1962 by Richard Neutra. In 2008, after relocating the Cyclorama itself–one of four extraordinary 359-ft long panoramic paintings made in the 1880s by Paul Philippoteaux [three remain]–to a new Visitors Center, the National Park Service began trying to demolish Neutra’s Cyclorama Building. Neutra’s son Dion and other preservationists are contesting this plan in court.
Well, it turns out the Cyclorama’s right on Cemetery Ridge, near the Confederate Army’s key attack on the center of the Union line. Which turns out to make sense, because that site was the focal point Philippoteaux chose for the paintings. This Cyclorama was on display in Boston for many years, until it was relocated to Gettysburg the town in 1913. The Park Service bought it, restored it, and then re-sited it to the very site it depicted, in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle.
neutra_gettysburg_cyclorama_focal_point_052010.jpg
The Park Service’s reasons against keeping the Cyclorama Building are partly logistical–it couldn’t accommodate the current number of visitors and cars; partly technological–the state of the Cyclorama art now involves multimedia light and sound elements, as well as 3D dioramas, which were apparently present in Boston, but not in subsequent installations. But its main argument is curatorial–it’s now considered inappropriate to place such interpretive structures directly on the site itself. The contemporary building thus thwarts their attempt to restore the battlefield to its pastoral, pre-1863 condition.
The first argument is undoubtedly true, but it doesn’t preclude the NPS from adapting the building to some kind of other, lower-impact use. The second argument is true, too, and I’d guess that they feel they’re getting the most out of their Cyclorama Experience now. Plus they now get to charge $10.50 for a ticket.
It’s the third argument that turned out to be so confounding and complicated, because the battlefield is literally jammed with markers and structures, not just monuments and memorials, that have been put there by successive generations as part of the remembering and memorializing process. The Cyclorama and its building are among the most important chapters in the post-war history of Gettysburg, and the Park Service’s plan to destroy the building would be highly questionable even if it hadn’t been designed by one of the country’s most well-known modernist architects.
Just about a month ago, a federal judge found that the Park Service had failed to study or consider the impact of demolishing Neutra’s building, which they had lobbied to keep off the National Register of Historic Places.
I think I’ll be breaking this up over several posts.
Next: ‘The largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world’

Ashes To Ashes, Toast To Toast

So I was watching Marie Lorenz’ video, Capsized, on WNYC’s Culture Blog, like I was told to do.
And not just because she had co-curated Invisible Graffiti Magnet Show inside those Richard Serra torqued spiral segments stored along the Bronx waterfront, I clicked through to see photos from Lorenz’ less harrowing journeys down the Tiber in her handmade boat.
Including Tiber River III, where she and a colleague from the American Academy look into the Protestant cemetery at Keats’ grave.
Which contains the epitaph that ends, “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water,” which prompts Lorenz to wonder what it means.

“I’m not really sure.” said Margaret. “Something about spirituality maybe, or the eternal nature of art. Its just good writing.” She said.

Well, the last one out of three, sure, but. So I looked it up.
And the full inscription overexplains it a bit:

This Grave
contains all that was Mortal,
of a
YOUNG ENGLISH POET,
Who,
on his Death Bed,
in the Bitterness of his Heart,
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies,
Desired
these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone:
“Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.”
th
Feb 24 1821

Which makes wonder if Keats was murdered by his editor.
No, The Phrases Finder entry from 2003 tells me that Keats, 25, whose tuberculosis was not, in fact, getting better on his winter trip to Italy, and whose pursuit of true love was thwarted by his poverty, composed the last bit, at least, as a reference to a line from a Jacobean tragicomedy called “Philaster, or Love Lies-Ableeding,”: “All your better deeds/ Shall be in water writ.”
Which is spiritual in an “All we are is dust in the wind,” sort of way, I guess.
But then the Google Ad next to this epitaph is from an outfit called westmemorials.com:
toaster_shaped_memorial.jpg

She was everything to you
Mark her history
with something more
than a gray toaster-shaped
memorial.

Which, Bread of Life and all, maybe is something about spirituality, but really, it’s just good writing.

On Remembering Ross Laycock

ross_laycock_wovenland.jpg
I’ve thought about similar situations before, so when I saw the mention in the NY Times article about all the dela Cruz’s Felix Gonzalez-Torreses I realized I was surprised at how infrequently I hear or see Felix’s partner mentioned by his full name. Turns out yesterday was the first time the Times has called him Ross Laycock, not just Ross, in the nearly twenty years since he died of AIDS-related illness.
This, despite Ross’s integral, intimate role in so much of Gonzalez-Torres’s work. Despite? Or because of? It’s partly the nature of Felix’s work, but Ross is most widely encountered [by people who didn’t meet him during his life, obviously] as an abstraction, a figure, a reflection, an absence, even, in the art work itself.
Remembering that there was far more to Ross than Felix’s artistic gestures, no matter how poignant, could convey, I Googled around a bit, and found my way to Nick Dobbing, who had been thinking very similar things for far more personal reasons.
Dobbing knew Laycock before Ross was famous, and posted a Christmas snapshot of him:

One can find pictures of Felix online easily enough, but (to my knowledge) none of Ross. I have often wondered, when people read about Ross, who is remembered mainly for being Felix’s lover, who do they think he was?
So I scanned this from an old snapshot and put it up, as a memorial.
It’s one of my most popular photographs, often revealed to others through Google searches, so I wonder if others are looking for a photograph of Ross.

Felix used several photos of Laycock in his works. Untitled (Ross and Harry) is a 1991 puzzle edition with the same dog:
felix_untitled_ross_harry.jpg
Recent Photos | Ross Laycock [wovenland.ca via flickr]

Share Your Bed

mj_share_your_bed.jpg
I’ve steered way clear of architect’s Michael Jackson Monument Competition because–hello, in what universe does that decision actually require any explanation? Because.
Anyway, after seeing the winners, I just have to raise a single, ungloved–and as yet unmittened, hold that thought–hand in apology and salute. They’re kind of hilariously fantastic. Kottke is all tight between the winner [a nice copyright play] and second place [the perpetual desert disco dance floor powered by a gold-plated windmill].
Me, I find the third place entry, by an architecture student named James at the University of Utah, to be borderline brilliant. Its title, “Share Your Bed,” comes from testimony Jackson gave during his trial for child molestation: “Why can’t you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone. It’s very charming. It’s very sweet. It’s what the whole world should do.”
The jurors liked the “almost cheeky minimalism” and transformation of “an ordinary domestic object,” apparently forgetting that these are both now standard-issue for memorials [c.f Oklahoma City bombing=chairs, Pentagon = benches]. For his part, James cites the “dialectic manner Michael lived life by,” where “Innocence clashes with social ideals.” I’d rank not molesting children a bit higher than an “ideal,” but he’s right that the bed is a potent site and symbol of personal/political, private/public paradox.
bed_in_lennon_ono.jpg
Beginning in April and running through the end of 1969, Yoko Ono and John Lennon conducted bed-ins as peace protests in hotels around the world. First was their honeymoon bed in Amsterdam, where the press converged, expecting to see the couple have sex. Instead, they were talking about peace all day. In bed. “Give Peace A Chance” was recorded in bed at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal that June.
Felix-gozalez-torres-billboard.jpg
And of course, there’s Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ classic billboards showing a couple’s–his and his partner Ross’s–unmade bed, which were installed across New York City in 1991. Either way, not artists or works I’d have ever thought to associate with Michael Jackson.
Whoops, I almost forgot. Huge shoutouts to etoile’s King of Pop In Orbit, the plan to launch Jackson’s shiny, gold coffin into space, which I have to love for obvious shiny-objects-in-space reasons–and to CUP’s The Michael Jackson Mitten Jamboree, for which the whole world knits themselves a pair of MJ mittens. Again, explanation is neither needed or possible.

Daniel Libeskind The Least Surprising Prefab Architect In The World

libeskind_prefab_int.jpg
Bwahaha, if ever there were an architect whose work looked like it was all churned out of an idea factory from weary bins full of identical parts, it’s Daniel Libeskind. And sure enough, just in time for the prefab business to be declared dead, the NY Times reports that Libeskind has unveiled a “limited artistic edition” 5,500-sf prefab villa, which can be yours–installed, in Europe–for just EUR2-3 million apiece.

Mr. Libeskind says he was involved in every aspect of the design, from the door handles to the kitchen layout to the placement of a barbecue area.

“We never really wanted it to be a prefab,” Mr. [Michael] Merz [spokesman for the Berlin company distributing the villa] said. “We want to position this as a piece of art.”
Buyers will also be promised regional exclusivity, ensuring that they are the only ones in their neighborhoods with the design.

And don’t forget, everything’s symbolic! There are no renderings of The Barbecue Of Community, but here’s a picture of the Sectional Sofa of Solace, criss-crossed by the Zig-Zags of Enlightenment.
The size, too, is important, 5,500 equaling both the number of passengers on the ship little Danny sailed into New York Harbor on as a boy, and also the drop in the Dow since the project began.
Libeskind Designs a Prefab Home [nyt via curbed]

Starting With Chris Burden’s TV Ad, Through The Night Softly

chris_burden_through_night.jpg
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.
burden_other_vietnam.jpg
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.

Prayer Flag Abstraction, Also Darren Almond’s Grandmother, Also

darren_almond_inf_betw.jpg
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.

Cuantos Obeliscos Portables? Mas, Por Favor!

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.

Bombardment Periphery, Rotterdam

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.]

brandgrens_2.jpg

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.

La_air_raid.gif

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]

Memorials: not as content-free as once believed

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.

Pentagon Memorial: S.N.A.F.U.

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]

Lessons from Pearl Harbor; Designing the Pentagon Memorial

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.]