The western culture has a long history of building monuments that can trace back to Ancient Greece and Rome. The tradition is so long that, most people, except for tourists, usually take monuments for granted. This is of little surprise. The word monument came from monere, “remind”, and thus ancient monuments were built to preserve memory. However, as that particular memory faded, the original meaning of the monument was lost. At the same time, new meanings arose, which is common throughout the history and integral to modern monuments. This week Professor Schnapp from Harvard University took us on a journey to investigate the “Bz ’18-’45” monument and the idea behind it.
A brief recount of the history of the monument shows how the meaning changed over time. Bz ’18-’45 is a modern monument based on the Monument to Victory inaugurated in the Fascist Regime. Set in Bolzano, a border city between Italian culture and German culture, the Monument to Victory was built to represent the imperial power of Fascist Italy. After the inauguration, the monument was frequently visited by Benito Mussolini. After WW2, the monument was used in a number of ways, from an alter immediately after the war to a gathering place of protests. Moreover, the monument itself was a subject of dispute among Italian nationalists and local German residents. Amid all the controversy, Bz ’18-’45 was built. The new monument left most of the old monument intact, added an LED ring on the façade, which completely altered the meaning of the monument, and reframed the basement to a museum of the history of the monument and Bolzano.
This monument is a great place for people to reflect on the meaning of a monument. Apart from its original meaning of memory, a monument gains additional meanings and significance over time as it is woven into the city fabric and the history fabric. Gradually, the original meaning might be lost or overcome by new meanings. This phenomenon drove the creation of modern monuments; for example, there are monuments of nothing whatsoever and monuments that are designed to disappear. This, in a way, sheds light on the modern mentality. In this ever-changing world, people realize that nothing is constant and stop pursuing grandness or timelessness. Instead, people start to focus on the ephemeral aspect of the world.
Another interesting point about this monument is the museum in the basement. The museum is filled with reproductions and photos. This is partly because the humidity of the basement will damage real historical objects and partly because today’s world no longer put that much significance on authentic historical objects. Instead, it focuses on the message, and even the impression.
In the modern world, monuments can hardly perform their original task of creating memory. They change, gain new meanings, and adapt to the modern mentality.