Category: November 8 (page 1 of 3)

Extreme Repurpose Monument Edition

On November 7, Professor Jeffrey Schnapp delivered a talk about monuments and their place in history. Many monuments can outrun their historical importance and relevance. Depending the original motive behind their creation, even the presence of said monument can stir up conflict between people. The surrounding history begins to shape how the monument is viewed, whether that be good or bad. The monuments themselves can also begin to contrast a more industrialized and urban city. Schnapp mentioned throughout his talk that even monuments created as a symbol of bad things should not be stripped of their architectural significance.

The architecture of a monument allows for an appreciation that is not related to the reason that it was built. It is to appreciate the monument as purely an object. It is important to look at this object as related to other objects in this time, looking as to what may have impacted the decisions of the builder. It is interesting to try and discern what elements are part of a larger piece. Then, objectively, it is also interesting to look at why the monument was built, and what the builder chose to include to express that message. Even in this case, where the message was to convey a fascist presence in this small border town, it is interesting to see what the builder included in the monument to show this. An interesting dichotomy is created when dealing with such oppressive and evil monuments, but there can be an appreciation for this symbol of hate strictly as a work of art.

Although they may not be timely, in respect to their appearance or symbolic meaning, it is important that the history of the piece itself is not forgotten. The message that was initially intended to be passed throughout generations may not be the same, but a message can still be preserved. Schnapp has shown through his efforts that this preservation can be a challenge. One false step and the support of the surrounding community can be lost. This is especially true when dealing with monuments that were built in times of division and war. Any event attached to the monument that either empowers or degrades a particular group of people is likely to cause feelings of contention.

Repurposing monuments can be a tricky process, but the creative solutions can be beneficial to the surrounding community. Schnapp’s story of his project went into detail about the process taken to repurpose the Monument to Victory in Bolzano and turning it into BZ 18’-45’. The project remained a secret for 5 years. It was carefully crafted to stay away from altering the exterior of the monument, but creatively implementing an informative exhibit in the basement that was not previously utilized. The resulting, creative solution repurposed the monument so the surrounding people and visitors to the area could learn the history of the monument and gain an appreciation for it as a piece of architecture. The previous associations are not gone, but the site has been adapted to have a more neutral purpose. Solely that of unbiased information.

 

The Killing Fields

Have you ever been moved to tears by a monument? Have you ever been angered? Moved to action? Encouraged to rest in gratitude? How have monuments impacted you, and what have your relationships been to them? What levels of empathy have you experienced with your various encounters with various monuments? What cities have you seen the bleeding heart of? Personally, I can think of many moments with monuments that have shaken me to my core. The MLK Memorial in D.C. The Vietnam War Memorial, also in D.C. The Holocaust Memorial in Boston. The Killing Fields in Cambodia (arguably a monument/memorial site).

The latter was perhaps the most uncomfortable. For me, it was about a deep uncovering of lies I had been taught to reside in. It was learning about the U.S.’s involvement in facilitating the rise of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. It was coming to terms with the lies we read in the history books to cover, silence, ignore, and erase the Cambodian genocide. It was looking my privilege and perpetuation of oppression in the eye when I met survivors on the streets of Phnom Penh. It was letting myself grieve the dead at each and every site. It was deeply unsettling and absolutely necessary.

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp spoke to us of the Bolzano Monument, helped us question what a (modern) monument was, how an anti-monument could be conceived, and what it meant to be behind the scenes of monument making. Some claim, such as Lewis Mumford, that this built environment should be in service of the living and not the dead. But, I wonder, whose life gets to be monumentalized? Who—living—gets to be serviced? In what ways can monument making be a step in the long, quietly destructive process of the erasure of history?

Moreover, Professor Schnapp showed us what it might mean to create “possibilities for transformation beyond replacing or destroying.” This Bolzano monument lives in the cracks and crevasses of this possibility and clearly draws in thousands of tourists every year. Questions should be asked—and have been—about the sustainability of this monument. But this should, certainly, be asked of every monument. Is it still doing its job? What is its purpose? What is trying to be evoked in its creation and resurrection? How does the past get communicated through the architecture of a monument and through the curatorial choices laid down brick by brick?

I am curious about the answers to all these questions for the Killing Fields. In what ways might it need to be revitalized? It has a simple, subdued, grieving purpose. It is not meant, most likely, to invoke revolutions. (Though great revolutions have come out of grief, I’m sure). Rather, the monument here is one of remembrance. It—in negation to Lewis Mumford—does seem to pay more service to the dead. It is a place for the living to go and to learn and to remember, but it also seems to be about honoring the dead. Those who, to much of the world, were invisible.

 

Monumental Mistakes

During my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa I was constantly hearing about the protests centered around “Rhodes Must Fall.” At the University of Cape Town’s central campus, there was a statue of the former prime minister, Cecil Rhodes, who is a historical figure to South Africa for both terrible reasons in most eyes and good in the reasons to the minority. Frequently the statue was defaced, spray painted, and used as a centerpiece in student led protests surrounding ideas of institutionalized racism and theft due to the terrible system of apartheid. Protests would become violent, so violent that there were times where it was unsafe to go to campus and classes would be cancelled. One of the later lectures focused on the rationale behind revolution, why some people would be willing to risk their lives and their futures and educations for the sake of a protest centered on change.

In thinking about Rhodes, a not as well known figure to most the West as much of South African history is not well taught in the textbooks that I read growing up, it might be easier to give an example for comparisons sake. It would be like if today, if Germany was somehow majority Jewish, and at a university if young people everyday had to walk by a statue of Hitler heiling. That is basically what the statue of Rhodes, who was an extremely outspoken white supremacist, represents for the many students of the University of Cape Town and what they have to walk by every single day on their way to classes. it is the university and governments way of reminding there students of the history of the country, which is not something that they should have to experience especially given the brutal nature of apartheid. While one of the arguments I repeatedly heard was that there is truly non biased historical value in the statue given its age and that in destroying the monument you are destroying history and culture, I feel as though similarly to the confederate flag, there are histories which are so painful in their nature and in what they represent that they should not be openly celebrated.

Some monuments of course can be used to immortalize sacrifice, to represent the effort and lives that were spent in providing freedoms and liberties to people. They can be used to give respects for the tragic accidents of individuals, from highway gravestones to something like the 9/11 memorial, which is now going to be surrounded by freedom tower as a reminder of one of the greatest tragedies in American and world history. In most cases however, monuments are representative of the social values of the time, which in our society that in my opinion should value progress, can be very tricky. At what point does the interpretation of the monument become subjective rather than objective, and who are we silencing or oppressing by representing a certain history? That to me is one of if not the most important question in thinking about what it means to memorialize a moment in history or person.

The importance of memory

Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture on the importance of monuments was right in my ballpark, so to speak. This semester, I took a class focused on debating the Nazi past, both from a historiographical perspective and looking at the contemporary politics and importance of memory. Monuments are undoubtedly a key part of understanding history. They remind us of what has been done and, if the monument is effective, facilitate a dialogue on how to grow from our past experiences and come together.

The monument I’m about to bring up isn’t necessarily a ‘revolutionary’ monument, but it is crucial nonetheless. In Hamburg, there is a “counter monument”. It is a simple monument – a square pillar with a message on it written in several languages to essentially remain vigilant moving forward, decrying the atrocities of the Nazi regime. The monument has many signatures on it of people who visit. This interactive monument is both a means to remember and uplift the victims of the holocaust and also an interactive call to work against the powers still present to some degree in society – racism and hate chief among them.

In more recent years, in Germany, as a result of the influx of immigrants, many of whom do not know or do not understand the importance of world war two in German History and memory, often have trouble relating to and engaging with the past. This is a problem that crosses borders. How do we make history relevant to those who don’t relate to it? Monuments are one answer to this question – but a monument is useless to this segment of the population if all it is meant to do is drag people back toward the past, back toward often dark times in a particular country’s history. Furthermore, too often monuments exist as a means to inspire mass guilt in the population. There are sometimes good and evil forces in history, but more often there is an expansive gray area that a monument can’t quite encapsulate. Does a German today need to feel remorseful for their ancestor being a member of the nazi party? That seems problematic to me, and I think it explains to some degree why many in Germany would avoid regularly attending holocaust memorials – it is either irrelevant to them or masochistic.

So how do we remember the past in a healthy way? We see monuments as we see our culture – dynamic, progressive, with a distinct reflective look at the past as a guide for our future. When a German looks at a commemorative monument, perhaps they can think about current oppression in the world today, not necessarily in their country, and they can muse on how to best combat that. As an American, I can go to an American history museum and think about how we are still oppressing Native American groups. I can go to the Vietnam memorial and think about how we are still utilizing an illiberal interventionist policy and this is the end result. A monument isn’t a tool for the past. It is a key to the future we want, that we can fight for.

Frozen in Time: Monuments

History has a way of reminding us that it is still here. Learning from the past and growing together while using history as an important basis of information is an integral part of a country’s development. History often freezes itself in the form of a monument. Monuments have been used by many different cultures to preserve an idea, an event, or a person in time. They serve as reminders of the past regardless of the current time. They are powerful and sometimes even used as mementos of revolutionary events that have occurred.

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture about monuments and how they can impact current cultures was extremely interesting. The concept that something from the past can still impact the people of the current day is extremely powerful. It truly emphasizes the message that monuments can convey. Understanding the message behind a monument is extremely important, because for many people, monuments can have different meanings. After Professor Schnapp’s lecture, I find myself more inquisitive as to the origins of a monument, and what had to happen in order for it to be put into place wherever it is.

One of Professor Schnapp’s main arguments was that certain monuments should modernized. He supports the notion that some monuments have outgrown themselves and ultimately overstayed their welcome. It isn’t the monument itself that Schnapp seemed to have an issue with, but rather it was the message that the monument conveyed that Professor Schnapp wanted to change. He argues that certain monuments have messages that are no longer relevant or necessary in the present day. People who currently inhabit this place are uninterested in the monument and the message that it conveys.

I found it particularly interesting when Professor Schnapp spoke about the opposition that he has faced in his journey to modernize monuments. Regardless of the fact that some people may not be interested in a monument and may not even realize the message it conveys, certain people feel a need to preserve the monument in it’s original state of being. While they may have been disinterested in a monument for the majority of their life, as soon as that monument is changed in any way, they feel strongly that it should be preserved as is. For me, while I do recognize the importance of creating a message that the current people agree with, I also feel like history and it’s preservation is important. On a case-by-case basis, I agree that monuments should be updated. But I do think that there are certain monuments that should be preserved to maintain their integrity.

Professor Schnapp has an interesting idea that monuments should grow as the people do. Monuments can be an extremely important part of a culture. They can serve to convey messages about a people or a place that other mediums simply cannot do justice. However, Professor Schnapp believes that the message, along with the monument, would benefit from updates and modernization. He believes, in some cases, that monuments should be closely interacted with by the people who agree with it’s message. It is important to create a monument that spreads a message that the people agree with. Otherwise you are completely neglecting the potential that the monument has to offer.

Confronting our Histories

The past shapes the present. It is important to regard history in this way. Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture about uncomfortable monuments argued this same point. He believes that it is important to find modern meaning in monuments that no longer make sense in the modern day. He defines a monument as a “stimulus of thought”. Monuments hold historical value; describing what the social values were of the time period they were constructed. However, he has come to realize that monuments oppose our industrial nature. We live in an industrial era that values progress and change, rather than idealizing the past. To this end, we believe that buildings should function for the living, rather than memorialize people of long ago that does not serve a relevant purpose for today’s industries or institutions.

It is easy to want to preserve monuments in which the history we believe supports their memorialization. Because victors write history, their monuments reflect the victorious side. Therefore, if someone said they were going to tear down Ground Zero people, at least western countries would be very upset. This monument still holds relevance in today’s society, as many of us were immediately affected by this tragedy. However, what if the monument did not reflect the majority’s views? Schnapp explored this question with the Monumento All Vittoria on the border of Austria and Italy. After World War 1, the Italians constructed the monument to send a message to Austria. The Eastern side of the monument spoke of enlightenment, and the northern side criticized the “barbarians” that lived there, a direct insult to the Germanic populations. Recently, this monument was recontextualized, an ode to the history of what occurred on the border of Italy and Austria.

Naturally, history has victors and therefore losers, as well. However, that does not mean that the victors are inherently good. Looking back on the history of the U.S., our ancestors made many horrible choices and oppressed and tortured many people. And often, we do not acknowledge the role our ancestors and our race played in history. In fact, some of our textbooks are trying to rid their pages of conversations about slavery. We cannot rewrite history, and we must recognize the mistakes our countries have made. And I believe that is imperative when discussing monuments as well. Our monuments are symbols of our histories, even if we are ashamed of what they are symbolizing. We must acknowledge and feel uncomfortable with this information. Schnapp speaks about critical reframing rather than critical demolition to understand modern monuments. Following my example, I do not support monuments that uphold slavery, however I think that it is important to create an educational space where we can discuss the horrors and the public approval of the horrors that existed. In this way, we can learn from our past mistakes. In order to understand our current situation, we must learn from our past. Monuments should serve as educational tools that can spread awareness about our histories. However, we must be sensitive to how they are remade, just like we must be sensitive in what we are including in our textbooks. The information must be accurate, with the purpose to inform, rather than to erase or sympathize with the oppressors. Racism, sexism, homophobia still exists in the U.S. and we must learn how to understand our history regarding minorities, and how we can value and support them in the future.

The meaning behind the monument

Before listening to Professor Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture, I never really paid much attention to monuments, they were simple landmarks, large markers that were well sculpted or nice to look at. However, now, after the lecture I can’t pass a statue or a memorial without thinking to myself ” what does this mean?” and “does it still belong here?”

While monuments are obviously connected to important moments in history, that people whoose to immortalize, Schnapp argues that many monuments have outstayed their welcome, that they are irrelevant to the living. While monuments speak a language and send a message, monuments are fundamentally at odds with life and those currently occupying the space.Schnapp stated that  architecture is meant to service the living, not the dead; essentially comparing monuments to tombstones invading living spaces. The needs of the living has also transformed the concept of a monument. For example, after the boom of the Industrial Revolution, vehicles and ships became the main architecture, expressions of the steel age, not the stone age.

While Schnapp brings up all of these points, he also addresses that monuments are not useless. Monuments are an amazing way for history to live on, for their to be memory of a past time, it is just best if they service the living. For example, the Monument to Victory, which was erected by Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1928 in Bolzano, Italy shows how monuments can be repurposed. The monument, which became an embarrassment to the country after World War II dues to it’s heavy ties to fascism, was renovated by Schnapp and his team. The monument, which has four large decorated columns, is a large symbol for fascist architecture. To bring this monument into the future, Schnapp and his crew added a three banded LED ring around the third column. While many were upset by this addition, for many reasons, including that it looks out of place, Schnapp was able to combine the digital age and the stone age, bring it into the future. Now, the monument, which was widely ignored a decade ago, now has tens of thousands of visitors annually; showing that the living will come if there a reason for them to be there.

Overall, what I learned most for this lecture is that while monuments are meant to commemorate the dead, they should also have a purpose for the living. I also realized that monuments need to be more than something to look at, they should be interactive and educational so that they can maintain their meaning and draw in new people to learn from them. There is a place in our world for monuments, but they need to be more than just a hunk of stone, as they will eventually outrun their time.

Dealing with Uncomfortable Monuments

In Jeffrey Schnapps’ talk about developing the BZ ’18-’45 monument in Bolzano, Italy, Schnapps discusses the story of transforming an uncomfortable, yet important, story into one generations can learn from and embrace. Although Schnapps’ work occurred in a small town in northern Italy, his work provides insight into an ongoing issues across the world: How do we deal with our uncomfortable past? Schnapps, although without resistance, took an important representation of a town’s history that was once avoided and transformed it into something with significant purpose. This story is an important one to listen to. Across the world, there are aspects of every country’s past that are looked down upon, or even forgotten, and learning how to handle and display them properly is needed.

 

Responding in this manner, of preserving uncomfortable artifacts, can be revolutionary in itself, or foster subsequent movements for how we view our past. One such example is the fight over Civil War monuments and graves, namely on the side of the Confederacy. Despite the attack on these artifacts, many local historians gathered and strived, much like Schnapps, to restructure them in a manner that made them educational. Although this movement across the American south remained hidden from the media, a small, but important revolution, occurred and resulted in the preservation, and updating of, important artifacts.

These experiences teach us the importance of being uncomfortable, and learning from history. Schnapps is unique from other movements as he made his exhibit technologically advanced, interactive, and accessible to many. Historians, artists, architects, and more can learn from his work, and ideally apply it to many communities.

Uncomfortable History

Throughout history, monuments have been erected to commemorate victories, honor powerful leaders, or serve as the symbol of a movement. However, when the victory was gory or unfair, the ruler corrupt, and the movement immoral, the monument becomes uncomfortable and alienates the people who did not benefit from the event depicted. Especially as populations become more socially aware of this phenomenon over time, there are calls to remove certain monuments. However, as a monument is closely equated with history, it is dangerous to simply remove the past instead of understand why it can be unsavory.

Uncomfortable monuments are important to understand for the same reason is is important we learn about history. Granted, monuments certainly should not exist for the purpose of honoring a genocidal ruler or an unfair, bloody battle. Similarly, history should not be taught in favor of immorality. However, if we simply removed all such monuments, we may forget that events that like this did happen, and were not okay. The presence of these monuments reminds people of injustice and incites action against its repetition. People are driven to understand immorality and work to prevent it, just like history is taught in part to teach a moral lesson based on the mistakes of our predecessors.

For example, the monument at Bolzano commemorates Mussolini’s transition to dictator and the Italian annexation of South Tyrol, Austria following World War I. This “Monument to Victory” has been a point of contention between German and Italian people living in the area, because for years the monument still served as a symbol of Italian superiority. Before the monument was renovated, it simply perpetuated national divisions and caused ethnic tension. This shows the negative impact uncomfortable monuments can have if the reason for the discomfort is not formally addressed.

The growing discontent with this monument was eventually addressed. The monument was not simply removed, though. Instead, Schnapp and his team built a museum underneath the monument and altered it slightly. This informs visitors of the dark history behind it instead of simply destroying it. This also bridges the gap between the two feuding groups, as one gets to keep their monument but information about its corruption is included to appease the other group. Similarly, history should be taught including this moral lesson. Unlike a monument, history cannot be removed. All that can be done to counteract negative historical events is to teach about them.

Monuments are important because they capture significant moments in history, even if those moments are not incidents that many want to remember. The “Monument to Victory” at Bolzano is an important example of this. Monuments are also especially important because they often signify turning points in history, revolutions. The discontent with many monuments prove that not all revolutions entail progress. A revolution in this case is defined as a dramatic change, whether that be regressive or progressive. However, these revolutions can be made progressive if they are renovated like the one in Bolzano was, and be made to teach a moral lesson.

Historical Meaning of Symbols/Monuments as Time Progresses

Professor Schnapp’s captivating talk discussed the role of symbols and monuments in “uncomfortable” revolutions and used the specific example of the Monument to Victory, which was erected in Italy by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1928. It had come to be somewhat of an embarrassment to Italians after World War II as it came to represent Mussolini and fascism because of the period it came from. Schnapp is part of a team that set a goal of modernizing the Monument to Victory and alter and reshape its meaning. Schnapp and his team set out to recreate an image of cultural tolerance and pluralism by placing a three-banded LED ring around the third column of the Monument, which had previously been fenced off for decades. Even if con-artists tried to dismantle the LED screen, the attempt by Schnapp was to bring the symbology to represent the local people.

Professor Schnapp’s work is commendable and inspiring, as I have not heard of anything like this occurring in the United States. It seems that controversial American monuments and symbols are simply left alone, torn down, or moved away without any attempt to remedy what they mean or represent. For example, as recent as a few weeks ago, the University of Louisville ordered a monument serving as a memorial site for Confederate Kentucky soldiers who served in the Civil War to be moved into storage or to another area. It eventually moved to Brandenburg, Kentucky, about forty-five miles from the University. Not that it is easy to do, but the University made no attempt at remedying the monument to represent something else, perhaps not associating with the Confederate Army.

An issue along the same lines whose meaning will not be easily revised is the Confederate Flag. In recent years, the Confederate Flag has been removed from places like off of the South Carolina Capitol Building. The Confederate Flag has come to represent slavery, hate and oppression in recent history as it was the flag of a state that threatened to leave the United States to keep slavery as a cornerstone of its society. It’s easier to alter the meaning of a generic monument such as the Monument to Victory when it was not explicitly the main symbol of the fascist movement. The Monument has only come to represent fascism because of the period it was built in. The Confederate state and most of the symbols and monuments that have come to represent its movement are hard to revamp in meaning. It is almost impossible to modify the meaning of the Confederate Flag and monuments of Jefferson Davis, for example, because they represent such an intense and controversial part of our history. Another controversial symbol example includes the Ten Commandments being put on monuments on public school grounds, too specific to change. It may be important in the future to not have an all or a nothing approach to contentious symbols, as Schanpp shows that a compromise can be usually always be reached.

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