Tag: monuments

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.

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.

Monumental Revolutions

On Monday night, Professor Schnapp spoke regarding the value of monuments and their roles in revolution – not only during their time of establishment, but also establishment and through history. Do monuments really matter? Should they be left standing even if public values pertaining to the monument change? It is true that monuments often mark significant moments in history, such as the Marine Corps Memorial of Iwo Jima, or commemorate lost ones for their service, such as the Vietnam War Memorial – however, often monuments are taken down after a community changes their overall perception in values, such as taking down Joe Paterno’s monument after discovery of his wrongdoings. While we may no longer want to recognize one’s inappropriate actions, does taking down a historic monument speak equally to our values? By removing something we once stood for, we are pretending that it never existed, which is a obvious falsification, creating gaps in history. While a monument may no longer serve with the purpose of commemoration, I do not support the removal of monuments when there has been a change in values, as we must still recognize history to acknowledge when we, as a community (of whatever size), may be at fault. In modernity, should there be a method to alter an existing monument, if values change regarding the said monument – if so, whose liberty is it to change the monument, and how can it be changed? It is an incredibly valuable not to necessarily remove a monument, but rather acknowledge, and understand where faults with it may lie. Given that monuments are dependent on the time in which they are created, it is likely that a number of monuments will be erected during, and related to the presidency of Donald Trump. With a country so heavily divided, on whose authority should pertaining monuments be built, and if they don’t accurately represent the majority of views in such a large nation (which is impossible given a population of 300 million), how do we appease everyone? If a wall is built separating the United States and Mexico, per Donald Trump’s hopes, must be use this as a marker of our nation, and one representative of our views as a whole? Surely not, however does this mean it should not be acknowledge as a monument? There is also another layer with this example, as this monument serves a major purpose, and not one strictly of decoration and/or commemoration. It becomes much harder for those not in support, to turn a blind eye given the clear role of this monument. Monuments are important in understanding a community’s views at a very moment in time, however they mustn’t be taken as the values of an entire population.

Monument

Different people and scholars have different views on monuments. Some see it as a waste of space, especially in cities, where monuments and memorials are often devoted to the dead they provide less of a concrete service to the living. There’s also many different styles of monument, some grand and imposing like the Arc de Triomphe, and some much smaller. It is hard for me to parse out what makes one monument better than another, if there is such a metric. No matter what though, most modern monuments hold memories to stimulate a though or recollection in a way that seems permanent and unquestionable in scale, hardness and duration. That suggests to me that often the choice material would be stone. But even stone can be torn down or without maintenance be let back into the earth. At some point, will all monuments be forgotten, fade away, or turn into something unrecognizable? Probably so, but it can be a slow change. However, it is a much faster phenomenon for monuments on the “wrong side” of history.

When I think of a monument I think of something permanent that serves to provide a message through time. Being relatively young and alive now, I probably don’t have firsthand memories of what any given monument stands for. I also have my own unique background and so do others, so a monument may mean different things to different people—whether it stirs thoughts or stirs memory. However, overall, a monument will have an overarching message behind it that is collectively understood during a period of time. But Jeffrey Schanpp broached further interesting questions that I had never given much thought to: how does the meaning of a monument change over time, must a monument be permanent, and can a monument be reframed to become relevant again? My short answer to all three questions would now be: It’s complicated.

Schnapp and a team reimagined the Bolzano Victory Monument. He said the goal is to “extract a monument from the history of its genesis into a message of our time.” That’s an incredibly eloquent way of putting it, but also very descriptive. And often, he suggests, there is more value in critically reforming a monument to foster new engagement than to just destroy it and erase its memories from out time. I think I agree with him in most cases. If you had a monument to a truly horrible message then maybe not, but with something that can effectively educate us about the past and not let us forget something that still has relevance now and in the future, it is clearly worthwhile. However, I do understand that people from different backgrounds may have very negative connotations towards a monument or what it stands for, while other will be less affected and feel more objective having different experiences. Reframing a monument in an effective and respectful way can overcome some of this, as is the case with the Bolzano Victory Monument.

(im)permanence

Some day, the big cosmological clock will stop ticking. Mozart’s Requiem, Shakespeare’s plays, the Sistine Chapel, Einstein’s theory of relativity, all of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, all of our libraries, museums, monuments, and buildings, even my name graffitied on my 6th grade locker will be forgotten and destroyed in our sun’s explosion. Everything we have worked so hard to create will be destroyed, the law of conservation of energy has no exceptions. These objects to which we have associated such deep significance are only arrangements of atoms in the larger scheme of the universe.

What happens to an object when it outlives its time period of significance? How can we preserve that? What does it mean? It seems as if everything we make has an expiration date if no one is around to interpret it anymore. Most items that outlast generations are forgotten in favor of novelty and contemporary objects, but a few of them are preserved in museums, libraries, and archives.

Museums, libraries, and archival buildings have always faced the challenge of forgetting. They become reservoirs of strength, of wisdom, and reminders of the continuity of the human existence in the face of our fast-paced lives. They urge us to slow down and appreciate objects and books instead of living in the Web. They remind us that all art was once contemporary, and the people who made it were just like us.

In our generation, where content is created with one click and physical objects seem to hinder us, the virtual world seems to rush past the physical one. Even considering our generational the bias towards the virtual, I always thought that having things as opposed to having thoughts provides a sense of permanence and longevity. This is the paradox of our times: trying to reconcile permanence with impermanence, and keeping those two ideas coexisting and contradicting each other. This urges a new take on what we consider permanent. The ubiquity of technology makes it easy to use it as a repository and a time machine, knowing that once it is online, it will be there “forever.” However, an entire generation has not lived and died with the internet yet, and we are still figuring out the consequences of storing everything digitally. and museums and libraries help us slow down.

Although museums and libraries seem futile in the future of the universe, they do not need to be. They might not be relevant to the universe, but they are relevant to us. They are a record of our existence, our past, present, and future—they are our graffiti  in one of the universe’s corner. Just because the sun is going to die one day does not mean we should give in to hopelessness and cynicism.

Curating a Monument: A Monumental Task

What makes something worth preserving? Who gets to decide what is worth preserving? How does one balance the suffering caused by something with the need to recognize its history? Professor Jeffrey Schnapp’s talk, “Uncomfortable (Revolutionary) Monuments,” made me contemplate the role of preservation and monuments in the history that we remember. Professor Schnapp discussed the Monument to Victory in the Italian town of Bolzano, a remnant of the country’s fascist regime in the World War II era. He explained the controversy that has surrounded the monument for decades and the recent exhibition that strove to contextualize and acknowledge the monument’s past. The exhibit does an excellent job of navigating the thorny territory surrounding elements of history that are not remembered fondly by all. Continue reading