Tag: monument

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.

Building a Future from the Past

Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture addressed the purpose of monuments, and how they have lasting effects on society, especially when they commemorate events or time periods that people would rather forget. The scale and magnificence of classical monuments work to honor memories of greatness. The Arc de Triomphe for example, exists on a larger scale than the surrounding buildings in Paris. It commemorates the independence established following the french revolution. Modern monuments tend to be less exuberant, many of which do not work to celebrate past success, but rather to remember important events that shaped in society in either positive or negative ways. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial exemplifies this conflict. The war is not considered a great American success, and by some it is even regarded as a wasteful war that resulted in unnecessary death and destruction. Mia Lin’s monument is somber, dark, and buried–reflecting feelings of the war. Her architecture is considered controversial since it differs vastly from those of classical and grandiose monuments. The change from large classical monuments to a more subtle style can be traced back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. After this era people believed that monuments worshipped the past and that energy should be thrust into the fast-approaching future. Monuments honored the dead, and some regarded this as a waste since they arguably serve no function for the living. While a monument may not directly benefit a society, the memory of events, positive or negative can serve to remind people of triumphs or mistakes. These memories of the past can be used as motivation or prevention in modern societies.
Schnapp discussed the Monumento alla Vittoria of Bolzano, which perfectly demonstrates how monuments can serve to help societies remember past mistakes to avoid recurrence. This monument was designed by Marcello Piacentini under the orders of Benito Mussolini himself. It originally was meant to glorify the transition of the Germanic city Boltzen, to the Italian city Bolzano after WWI. Monumento alla Vittoria was constructed with a Fascist style, and served as a meeting place for Nazi’s. Today, this monument serves as a reminder of the dangers of fascism and the effects that it has had on the world. Some people of Bolzano would rather forget about this statue’s original purpose as it is shameful to the history of their nation. Over the years, this statue has been vandalized, and even blockaded for protection. It can be very difficult to cope with a painful past, if there are nothing to take anger out on. This specific monument, and others like it, serve as material entities that people have decided to vandalize to expiate their anger–sometimes it feels good to break something even if the enemy and his or her ideology is long-dead.
The restoration of Monumento alla Vittoria ironically wed the city to its past. Refurbishing the statue forced the city to acknowledge its past mistakes since it now had a giant and new-looking reminder. The architects responsible for the restoration also put a ring on the statue–figuratively wedding the city to the monument. The symbolization of the ring upset many people. Some argued that the monument should not have been restored if only to be vandalized by the addition of the ring. Even though controversial, engaging a city to its tumultuous past forces people to acknowledge past mistakes instead of erase them. Through acknowledgement and commemoration of the past, people are able to learn from mistakes and build a better future.

The Worth of a Monument

What is the importance of a monument? I have always found that monuments are a way to visit the past. To try and enshrine an amazing time in history. The lecture on Monday night that explored the idea of monuments did just that. It looked at how we structure monuments now compared to when and for what purpose they were built.

The idea that I always find fascinating is will we ever see a new monument be built today, or will it be classified as a monument in classical terms? The reason for this thought is the same reason why a boxer will never be as good as Muhmmed Ali. Even though a boxer might be as good, the allure of Ali will live on forever as the champion with present fighters never able to live up to him. With that same piece of mind, it seems unlikely that a modern monument will be built. It seems that people have an idea about the past that makes it seem like it is better than the present. Whether that is right or wrong I do not know, nor wish to argue. More the fact that for the same token when an artist passes away his artwork usually takes a rise in prices since his memory is usually fond and that they are unable to make any more artwork. But that isn’t to say that living people haven’t had monuments put up. The late Joe Paterno had statue at Penn State until an investigation into his hiding of information about child sexual assault came out. It was then taken down. But it does prove that people are willingly to erect a statue or monument about a living human person as opposed to the dead.

Along with building monuments, should old ones be torn down? The most obvious case of a monument or historical piece being taken down in the United States is in the state of South Carolina where they choose to not use the confederate flag as their state flag anymore. Whether in support for the southern pride that is said to bring to people or the upset about how a state still supports in some ways the ideas about what the state used to stand for. By taking down the flag in some ways the state is trying to hide what it used to stand for. That in the past it was in support of slavery and along with that obviously racist rhetoric. Instead of shying away from where the state came from could they accept their past and fly the flag, but with an explanation?  The explanation could say how once the state took a stance on ownership of people’s bodies and now where it stands. How it has moved on from the past, how it is no longer connected to those ideas, and how by having it up there every day it is a reminded how South Carolina has a responsibility to keep moving forward. In that way monuments of the past that have a negative connotation can still be used positively in the future.