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Entries in memorials (21)


Jonas Dahlberg: memory wound, 2014

Jonas Dahlberg. Memory Wound, winning competition entry to Memorial Sites After 22 July. image: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

Memory Wound, above, is one of three memorials to the victims of the massacre at Utøya, Norway in 2011.  The rock cut out of the Sørbråten peninsula to make the channel will be used to make another memorial in Oslo on the site of a car bomb, also Anders Breivik's responsibility.  

According to The Guardian, Dahlberg has spoken of poetic rupture, beauty indissolubly linked to loss. One wall of the cut is inscribed with the names of the children killed, the other is carved out into a ledge from which to view the names.  The cut is aligned with Utøya – it doesn't eradicate Utøya by being placed literally on the site of the massacre itself.

This is how such massively inexplicable deaths are memorialised these days, by massive land art.  There is little else that we feel is significant enough to approach the scale of war, for this was an act of war between a race-based fundamentalism and an unwitting, wealthy, liberal and secular populace.  It seems to be too difficult to explain how Anders Breivik came to be, the best we can do is to set up sites where we can contemplate what he did.  Memory Wound is a powerful place to do this; does it address the rise of anti-islamic fundamentalism in Europe? Not really, it addresses the children, their absence – the effect of a cause that remains active, not absent.

Land art puts human activities into the context of the earth as a planet, the sun as a star, time measured in light years – things almost beyond comprehension for all we have been taught how geology and astronomy works.  These things have become our ineffable, things so detached from the development of the human race that they absorb human failings.  It's cosmic and all, but there are other Breiviks out there, and they are unmoved.  


Argentina's Playlist for Freedom

Part of BBC's Freedom 2014 programming: Natalio Cosoy's passionate explanation of the music of Argentina's often coded popular and folk songs during both military rule and after.  A wonderful half-hour of 'anthems to perseverance', as he says, 'what music can actually do, in terms of instilling freedom into society.'

Manifestación de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo en 1983, // Click on image to take you to the BBC page. Not ever sure how long these things are available for, but this image gives you all the tracking information.

This is an exciting series.  Here is a link to hip-hop in Africa.  For someone, me, who came to African music in the pre-African Rap late-80s, this program explains much that I had seen as neo-colonialism.  Again, it and the words were and are coded, flying under the radar of convention, tradition and military regimes. 


Gee's Bend quilts

Pearlie Kennedy Pettway, 1920-1982. "Bars" work-clothes quilt, ca. 1950, denim and cotton, 84 x 81 inches.

Gee's Bend, Alabama: a small community in a near-oxbow of the Alabama River, originally the Gee cotton plantation, settled in 1816 with 18 slaves.  This had increased to about 150 when slavery was abolished, and most became sharecroppers still working for the landowner.  Its isolation was grave: a ferry and a single road in, during the Depression it received assistance from the Red Cross and the Resettlement Administration which eventually purchased the plantation, re-renting it to its tenants who in the 1940s were able to purchase their plots.  Because of its historical, cultural and social isolation, it has been much studied as a community: its music, its speech and its quilts.

Much has been made of the quilts.  During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Freedom Quilting Bee was formed which sold quilts outside Gee's Bend – difficult as the ferry had been eliminated to make voter registration in nearby Camden hard: by land it was an hour's drive. Ferry service was only restored in 2006.  

The quilts received critical attention almost immediately; they were exhibited, documented, they appeared in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, at the Whitney and the Smithsonian and they've been on US Mail stamps.  It's a big deal.  Despite having done a slew of quilts in my time and collected a number of African American strip quilts from my time in Texas, I only heard about the Gee's Bend quilts on a BBC jazz program  (you can no longer hear it but the playlist is there) about the Jaimeo Brown Trio whose music is based on the Gee's Bend quilters' spirituals that they sing as they quilt.  

When I looked up the quilts, many of which feature on the Smithsonian site, I also found a much-repeated critical stance on Gee's Bend quilts, this one typical: 'There's a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making, writes Alvia Wardlaw, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts [Houston].'

Once again, we have something with its own history, economics, traditions and modes of production likened to abstract art.  Because it looks like abstract art doesn't mean it is abstract art.  Perhaps to an art historian, this comparison of visual similarities was once the foundation of some sort of taxonomy, but today?  I don't think so.  Wardlaw, above, likens the 'improvisational range of approaches to composition' to the same range of approaches found in abstract painters of the same era: mid- to late-twentieth century.  This doesn't add credibility to the quilts; it does outline the way that art curators seek to legitimise work outside the tradition of western painting.

The quilts need no legitimacy, they are themselves.  For this, the Smithsonian essay is good.  It doesn't bang on about how abstract they are because they have spoken to the quilters themselves, who recall things such as Martin Luther King's visit, adding bits to a quilt that is too small, great-grandmothers sold for a dime (not the quilt, the great-grandmother), picking cotton and okra, and sewing a quilt out of your father's work clothes after he died, to remember him by.  

None of this is abstract at all. And nor are the patterns.  They are determined by the size of pieces of fabric to small to use for anything else.  This is an art of poverty, where nothing goes to waste.  Anything less like the economic system that is the art world would be difficult to find.  

In 2007 two quilters filed a suit against dealers who had claimed to own the intellectual property rights to pre-1984 quilts and had used photographs and quotations to promote sales.  The case was dismissed, but it indicates a certain degree of ongoing exploitation of labour, just at a more decorative and sophisticated level. 

Rachey Carey George (born 1908). Work-clothes strips, c. 1938. Denim (wool trousers, mattress ticking, cotton). 82 x 72 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.


Terror Háza, Budapest, 2002

Attila F Kovacs, Architeckton RT, architects. House of Terror Museum, Budapest, Hungary, 2002. photographer: Janos Szentivani.

The Terror Háza in Budapest, where 'terror' is the same word in Hungarian.  The building was used by the Arrow Cross Party (National Socialist) in WWII, then in the postwar soviet sphere, headquarters of the State Security Department, ÁVO.  With both, the windows were either covered, blocked or painted over: a literal signalling of secrecy and opacity. Is this the first necessity of security systems – that detention, interrogation, torture and homicide be conducted without windows?  Evidently.  

The colour black is indubitably connected to such darkness, and not for nothing is there a whole collection of associated sites and actions: black ops, black sites of secret extraordinary rendition, black projects – rogue, but sanctioned, secret but documented, somewhere.

The Terror Háza, a museum about fascist and communist regimes, is a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience; the building was bought by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History; the exhibition hall and the treatment of the outside is by Attila F Kovács, who painted it black, embedded ceramic miniatures of victims at eye height around the base and added the cornice — what?  brise-soleil?  an extended plane that casts the word terror over each façade: a complex reading because it uses sunlight, light, enlightenment to cast an inverted shadow over something already historically shadowed. The word cast is not hopeful, despite the sunlight, it too is dark.  

There is ongoing protest and negotiation in Hungary about the proportion of exhibits and thus blame given to communism over fascism.  Which was worse?  It depends on who you are.  Or were.  Similar debates, angry and hurt, are conducted in our War Museum in Ottawa and the Imperial War Museum in London: was Bomber Harris a war criminal or a successful strategist?  Terror is a tool of war, whether hot or cold, civil or revolutionary, used by all sides.


Victoria Day

J R Robbins. Edward Oxford attempts to shoot Queen Victoria, 1840.

This for Canada's Victoria Day weekend, probably the last place in the world that still celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday. 

From another time, that other country:  'The twenty-fourth of May, is the Queen's birthday.  If you don't give us a holiday, we'll all run away.'

Or, if you were Edward Oxford, try to shoot the Queen, be declared insane, and then be sent to Australia.


Cape Breton coal mines

In 1978 when this NFB snapshot was made, Cape Breton coal mining was already being memorialised.  But the song is jolly, full of optimism.

Canada Vignettes: Men of the Deeps, Cape Breton by Sandra Dudley, National Film Board of Canada

By 2009, this performance at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Cape Breton coal mining has become a tragedy.


the violent sound of remembering violence

link sent to us by Chloé Roubert

Extremism and zealotry beget generations of extremism and zealotry.  It isn't over yet.


Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet, 2001

Janet Cardiff The Forty Part Motet, 2001. Re-working of Spem in Alium Nunquam habui, 1575, by Thomas Tallis.
40 track sound recording, 40 speakers, 14 min. Museum of Modern Art, 2001. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Rolf Hoffmann. © 2012 Janet Cardiff. Photo: Thomas Griesel. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.

Janet Cardiff's 2001 sound installation, The Forty Part Motet, was part of Peter Eeley's 2011 September 11 exhibit at MoMA PS1. However, it had been been installed MoMA in October 2001, and became the soundtrack to the processes of emotional reckoning in New York following the 11th of September. 

Eeley says, 'That work for me will always be tied to 9/11, since I encountered it here in the weeks following the attacks. Earlier in the year, Janet had created a spatial adaptation of a 16th-century piece of choral music by Thomas Tallis, recording each member of a choir individually and piping each voice into its own speaker, the group of which she arranged in a circle. Sitting in the middle of the room, we hear the full song, but, wandering among the speakers, the voices of the specific singers emerge more strongly.
The experience of hearing a collective song and the individual voices constituting it immediately summoned for me, and for others, the dead of 9/11 and their sublimation into the grief of national tragedy. I decided to simply put the piece back in the same room where it was in 2001—in part to think about what history has changed, and what it has allowed to stay the same.'

On You Tube there are a zillion different versions, mostly people recording while wandering around picking up voices from individual speakers, in cathedrals, churches, large empty spaces, controlled gallery spaces, always the same: banks of black speakers on stands arranged in a big circle.  

Not even tourists can distract from what is a pretty powerful experience, even in a 2-minute hand held extract.

and another, with discussion, at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds.



the abolition of slavery

Krzysztof Wodiczko and Julian Bonder. Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery, Nantes. 2012

Pays                 Expéditions négrières
Angleterre           41 %
Portugal              39 %
France                19 %
Hollande               5.7 %
Danemark             1.2 %

Principaux ports          Nombre d’expéditions
Nantes                          1714
Le Havre                         451
La Rochelle                     448
Bordeaux                        419
Saint-Malo                      218
Lorient                           137
Honfleur                         134
Marseille                          88
Dunkerque                       41

Wodiczko and Bonder's memorial is on the Quai de la Fosse in Nantes, the wharf where the slave ships moored before they left for Africa. The most extensive description, including drawings, is on the arcprospect site.


Patrick Keiller's London, 1994

I've been waiting to see this again for years, since 1994 in fact:


Marqueste's Waldeck-Rousseau

Laurent Honoré Marqueste. Monument to Waldeck-Rousseau, inauguration, 1909. Les Tuileriies, Paris

Not a monument to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but one to Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, the prime minister of France between 1899 and 1902, and something called an Opportunistic Republican: centre-left moderates, les sinistres, who reinforced republicanism against turn of the century resurgent monarchists.  

How things change, the monument at its inauguration in 1909 is tall, and a bronze seraph intersects the two-dimensionality of the marble piece. Blessed from above and sturdy workers below, and even below them, us, this monument needs no landscape, no ring of trees: it is a force unto itself.   Just as well, it now stands in front of a wall, the ground level has risen to diminish it, and the winged victory fled during the German occupation of Paris in WWII.  And are we bothered much about who Waldeck-Rousseau was, or, with the loss of information, do we simply see it as a generic beaux-arts salonism?  

Neither heroism nor politics have worn well when translated into allegorical figures: we have forgotten the allegories.  We are illiterate in the classics.  We don't know our marble, much less how to carve it.

Waldeck-Rousseau today


Alesia II


Bernard Tschumi. Alesia Museum, Burgundy, France, 2011.

This Tschumi drawing of Alesia looks like a Roman bracelet flung onto the ground a long time ago, grass and weeds growing through it.  There is something about this project that keeps raising these images of decorative precious adornments.

Bracelets, Roman Britain, buried in the 5th century AD, now in the British Museum. 
Found at Hoxne, Suffolk in 1992. Alongside approximately 15,000 coins were many other precious objects, buried for safety at a time when Britain was passing out of Roman control.


writing and power

Bab Al Aziziya compound monument, Tripoli. August 23 2011


Jack's wall

Jack Layton spontaneous memorial wall. Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto.

It is all printing.  
Somehow the expressive illegibility and personality of handwriting is irrelevant compared to the loss of Jack – his clarity and his passion. 


curtain walls and liberty

Assemblage of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. NYPL Digital Gallery, image 1161037Dan Cruikshank danced around Mexican pyramids and an 1851 Colt 6-shooter last night in his Round the World in 80 Very Very Special Places and Things, ending with the Statue of Liberty, which was unfortunately closed to both visitors and potential terrorists.    It reminded me of several of the peripheral features of the statue often forgotten in the glare of its iconograpy.  The broken chain at her foot, the Emma Lazarus poem inviting the poor huddled masses to leave their countries of birth and oppression and come to America, where all are free.   Just before Liberty, Dan went to Monticello, the dark side of which is that Jefferson had 5,000 slaves while writing the constitution that said that all men shall be free.  Dan's taxi-driver was very explicit about what he thought about that.

In Yasmin Khan's book about the Statue of Liberty she describes the skin as a curtain wall in theory, attached to an iron structure which has, built within it, a certain flexibility between structure and skin that protects the skin from stress.  Eiffel and Koechlin designed the structure, rigid enough, and a system of straps that connect the copper skin to the iron armature.  It is this system that allowed the statue to be built in France, disassembled and sent to New York and then reassembled there. 

There is an element of the fairground and the exposition about the making of this statue, a kind of political hucksterism between France and the US that involves the building of the Panama Canal, the revolutionary identification between France and the US, the potential for the US to be a military ally of France in its war with Prussia.  Perhaps it is always this way, but what remains, with this particular project, is a reminder of the deep contradictions at the heart of the USA.


Jamelie Hassan: Poppy Cover

Jamelie Hassan. Poppy Cover. LOLAfest, London Ontario, 2010Poppy Cover was installed during London Ontario Live Arts' LOLAfest, September 16-19, 2010. 
Two thousand poppies were attached to a large camo net which then covered a Sherman Tank that sits permanently in Victoria Park, London.  The WWII tank was dedicated to the park in 1950 by the 1st Hussars of the Canadian Forces, based in London.  It was the only tank of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment to complete the entire European campaign from D-Day to the end of the war.

Jamelie Hassan's Poppy Cover restores this WWII history (the tank mostly provides an ad hoc climbing frame for children outside Remembrance Day services) and adds the current Afghan conflict to it.  The poppies reference the WWI Flanders field poppies, the Canadian Legion poppy tradition for Remembrance Day and the poppy fields of Afghanistan which flood the world with opium and heroin. 

As with all Hassan's work, objects have deep histories and consequently multiple readings.  History is not simple, it is striated; monuments are not fixed and stable, they are ongoing and mutable.  


another measure of extinction

Anti-body snatching railings, 19th century England.

Evidently, iron railings around graves, one of which I found in a small Nicola Valley cemetery last summer, come from the era of 19th century body-snatchers and grave robbers in England.  Freshly buried bodies were regularly dug up to sell to medical schools for dissection.  Relatives would watch over the grave at night until the body had deteriorated to the point it was not worth digging up –two to three weeks. 

This is all on the Jane Austen website, 19th century social practice arcana.  So many traditions migrated to Canada leaving their particular histories behind: we are left with inexplicable material objects.  In terms of fenced graves, it was the wealthy that could afford such a fiercely protective display.  Where this occurred in the little Nicola Valley cemetery, there were two grand iron-fenced graves and then half a dozen less grand graves surrounded by wood picket fences.

The body-snatchers weren't in evidence here, but wealth was.   Granite gravestones are shockingly expensive, if you've ever had to get one.  They probably always were.  Added to cast iron fencing, it was quite a display.   I'm not sure that the dead are concerned with display, however the precision of a picket fence gives the dead some privacy and some propriety: a defence against obliteration.

St Michael's Cemetery, Nicola Valley, BC


Fionn Byrne. A memorial to the extinction of a species

Fionn Byrne. A Monument to the Extinction of a Species.This is a new submission to On Site's digital exhibition of war memorials.  Byrne opens with this statement: 'the alarming rate of species extinction would not normally be classified as a war, but perhaps this ongoing extreme loss of life should be reconsidered in the context of an organized conflict.'

Yes, it should. 



Ireland Park

Kearns Mancini Architects, Ireland Park Foundation, 2007Paul Whelan has written about Ireland Park in the new issue of On Site.  It commemorates the huge wave of emigrants from the 1847 Irish famine.  Incredibly, over a six-month period, 37,000 immigrants washed through Toronto, population 20,000, on their way to both inland and to the United States. 

Walls with names seems to be a necessary memorial component now: these names of people who died on the voyage or shortly after, about 20% of the total, are inscribed in the interstices of a rough difficult craggy cliff. 
And, also necessary it seems, are the figurative statues, in Toronto's Ireland Park part of a set, the other half being in a park in Dublin: the wraiths who left, and if they didn't die, arrived in North America. 

Migration stories: is there a point at which oral history – the journeys, the reason for emigration in the first place, the subsequent struggle to re-establish a life –is lost?  And is that when we start to build memorials?  


PLANT: fallen firefighters

Proposed Memorial to Canadian Fallen Firefighters. PLANT + Douglas Coupland, 2010

from PLANT's website:  PLANT and Douglas Coupland have been awarded the commission for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa. The competition jury selected from among five collaborative teams. The project will begin design development this fall, with a projected completion date of Autumn 2012. 

One of the sticking points with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington is the obligatory presence of over-sized bronze soldiers nearby, something insisted on by Vietnam veterans themselves, not sufficiently versed in the power of the abstract statement.  Such statues, of soldiers, or flyers, or seamen, or firefighters, or nurses are either shown engaged in battle, or are standing exhausted after it.  Leaders are shown in dress uniform standing tall and stern, untouched, as in real life, by the grit of fighting.

PLANT+Coupland's proposal clearly refers to Maya Lin's Vietnam project: also a wall, also engraved with names, also shaped in some meaningful way, although from this one press release image it isn't quite clear what the shape refers to.  It also refers to the controversy over memorials and the degree of representation needed to show effectively the collective individual tragedies that constitute natural and man-made disaster.

In this firefighters memorial, the naturalistic bronze statue points at the abstract list of names.  We are admonished. We are not out for a pleasant day on LeBreton Flats looking at the increasing array of national monuments and memorials, we are being told to go and look at this particular sacrifice.  We are being instructed.  It is quite exhausting.