Readings: The Monument, part 2

Continued thoughts and notes from reading the chapter the Monument in Malcolm Miles book Art, Space, and the City.

The last post became quite lengthy, so I will try to be more concise in this post.

The Monument - History and Hegemony

Miles makes a case for the monument as a means of legitimizing and preserving the hegemony of the ruling class. Using the example of Hadrian and the rapid increase of statues and memorials during the nineteenth century he builds a theoretically stronger case for earlier statements of monuments as devices of social control. In Europe and America the monuments helped subdue "social conflict within a myth of national identity, and [...] personal grief for the deaths of colonial wars within a myth of sacrifice, supported by an established religion and commemorated in memorials which were sites of public remembrance, a process described by Bird as 'the state's desire to represent itself as the unifying authority.'"

Moreover the monuments also serve as a legitimizing of a 'national memory' by providing rites and cites of remembrance that replicate social hierarchies. The monument downplays the horrors and the sacrifices made by citizens far down the hierarchical ladder and the non-citizens whom have opposed, and been defeated by, the hegemony and instead presents an idealized image of war which supposes a reverence for the nation rather than its conscripts.

The Language of Allegory

I am a fan of anecdotes - so finding out that the Victory Arch in Baghdad was designed by Saddam Hussein himself, based on casts from his own hands/arms and was cast in a foundry in Basingstoke was great. I also thought the comparison of 'lack of authenticity' of the Victory Arch and the Statue of Liberty enlightening. The arch was made in anticipation of a victory in the Iran-Iraq war that was never recognized and lady liberty was being built as a welcoming symbol to the land of the free at the same time that the first laws restricting immigration into the United States, banning convicts, lunatics and Chinese laborers were being drawn and passed.

Seems Baghdad is becoming a pictorial theme on this 'blog'...

Seems Baghdad is becoming a pictorial theme on this 'blog'...

Frameworks

Miles discusses different theoretical frameworks one can use to interrogate the notion of the monument and lands in what he sees as three possible frameworks - as the imposition of ideology, as landmarks or signifiers of place, or, possibly, a framework of the democratized monument. Miles argues that the two first categories overlap, the first often times, over time, turning into the second - the monument fades, if you will, into the urban landscape and is, in the process, depoliticized.

Miles finishes this chapter with discussion on resistance and democratisation of the monument. This is perhaps the most interesting part in the chapter and I will return to the subject in a later post - I am collecting references and material for a short essay which will be completed in a few weeks.

Reflections: first critique

On the ninth and tenth of October we had our first critiques. The structure of the critique sessions was that of a 'blind reading' - meaning that the group first discussed what was presented and only at the end was the artist responsible for the presented work allowed to weight in and defend or otherwise respond.

grupp kritik 1.jpg

It's an effective structure, the group is not led to view the work in a certain way but instead allowed to make their own readings. In this case, however, many and more were in the very early stages of their work which led to some speculating and imagining rather than a focused discussion. This was certainly true for my critique session. I did however get some interesting references to look into, some new useful input on how to think about the development of one of my projects and also some help in confirming some of my own observations about my current work. I am also very happy that I have ended up in such a knowledgeable class and that the group does not seem afraid to speak openly and quite critically about the works presented whilst at the same time being courteous and respectful. It bodes well for future sessions!

In my studio I have started writing down notes on three projects that I am starting working with - I don't have a whiteboard so its just a large piece of paper divided into three columns, one for each project. One is a sculptural, one is a video, and one is a sound piece. I have put them next to each other in hope of finding some commonality between them.

After the critique it seems that it is clear that all the projects deal with concepts of power in different ways - the individual strength of humans, her aspirations and her achievements, structures or systems of power that exert influence on the individual and society at large, and the impact of forces of nature or 'acts of god' that are, possibly, outside the realm of human control.

I will briefly describe each project, mine own thoughts on them and how the critique has influenced the work going forward. The titles are all very work in progress.

1. Pushups: A multi-channel video piece. When I have worked with video I have always worked with short looped sequences. Kind of like elaborate GIFS. This is no different. The idea is to have a number of 'normal' bodies doing pushups in perpetuity filmed from the side. When screened together I want them to look much like pistons moving up and down, sometimes in sync sometimes not. Key themes of inspiration here are Sisyphos, work, fitness culture and the idea of progress. Comments from the crits: the pushups seem to be not well performed, it seems to be hard work, struggle. I think these are reactions that I would like to be had in the final work as well.

2. Sjöväder/Sea weather: a sound piece. Since 1939 there the Swedish radio has broadcasted very technical weather reports focusing on the seas around Sweden. They are read with a very monotone voice devoid of emotion. I am in the process of collecting these reports for situations of extreme weather from 1985 (the year of my birth) until 2017. What I will do with these I am at the moment unsure, but one idea is to make a composite of the collected weather reports and perhaps exaggerate them. Another idea is to leave them as is and just have them read in a chronological order. What I am interested in here is the contrast of the calm voice describing a state of emergency. Comments from the crits: what happens if the recording is instead a hysterical reading? Is it interesting to interview the broadcasters who read the weather reports? Is it interesting to look at weather logbooks of sailors? Quote from Titus Livius AKA Livy: "It is pleasant, when the sea is high and the winds are dashing the waves about, to watch from the shores the struggles of another." This played together with the pushup videos would be interesting.

I think that these are questions to be asked, especially since I am so early in the process it is important to explore different paths. I do feel however that it is the contrast between calm and excited that I want to explore. I also very clearly see a connection between the pushup video and the weather report. The myth about the Tower of Babel comes to mind or the story of Prometheus. The consequences of human striving unleashing uncontrollable powers is an interesting theme.

Ivan Aivozovsky

Ivan Aivozovsky

3. Carl Gustaf with Carl Gustaf: sculpture. This project is in many ways the outlier. There is an old picture of the current Swedish king holding a Carl Gustaf rocket launcher. I would love to make a monument of this picture. A classic bronze sculpture on a large pedestal. Realistically it is best to approach this project as a proposal, not to think that it will be realized but to work as if it was a commissioned and funded public art work.

carl gustaf for blog.jpg

Sweden is one of the worlds largest weapons manufacturers and it is a topic that I find very interesting to delve into. Swedes are so proud of their music, gaming and technology "wonders" yet we never speak about the Swedish weapons wonder.

Comments from the crits: Look into Hito Steyerl who works with associated themes. Is there a connection with the other works here? Where is the collision of expectations? The other works have poetic qualities, yet this one does not. What are other ways to approach the Swedish weapon industry? Can you be inspired by the calm reading of the weather report and work more with the marketing of the Carl Gustaf? All these works seem to, in a way deal with violence.

I very much look forward to exploring the work of Hito Steyerl and I am currently reading about monuments to further inform this work going forward. This piece stands out from the other works, it has something, some quality, that I like and makes me want to go through with it, at the same time it seems shallow in a way that I want to understand better. Much like my previous work Fools Gold I believe this seemed shallowness as deceptive, there is more to be had here than just a simple monument. The theme of violence is very interesting especially in relation to the monument (see my notes on readings). There are certainly many different approaches to work with this topic and I think that this idea of a monument does not mean I can not explore, for example, marketing strategies related to the Swedish weapons industry.

Readings: The Monument, part 1

Thoughts and notes from reading the chapter the Monument in Malcolm Miles book Art, Space, and the City.

I am currently working on a project that exists in the realm or genre of the monument and have therefore started reading some texts that relate to the subject. Here follows a summary and some reflections on the chapter the Monument from Malcolm Miles book Art, Space, and the City.

Miles begins by stipulating that the monument is a device of social control and that the monument represents a sort of consensus of values. Miles argues that culture becomes a means of preserving social order by displacing value into an aesthetic domain and 'setting up a duality of art and life, allowing the impact of power or money on every day life to be unquestioned, or at least less questioned.'

This to me makes some sense and I think it important to add that the material composition of the monument helps to stabilize these values as well. Bronze and stone speak of a permanence that is not easily swayed by the day-to-day fluctuations in history. When there is a radical or permanent shift in the values of a society or a society is fundamentally changed through pressures from external sources, for example through conquest, the tearing down of these monuments become symbolically significant for the the same reasons.

The iconic images of this statue coming down and Iraqi civilians cheering is controversial as it turned out to that it was not a spontaneous moment brought on by Iraqis but rather a managed moment by the U.S. military.

The iconic images of this statue coming down and Iraqi civilians cheering is controversial as it turned out to that it was not a spontaneous moment brought on by Iraqis but rather a managed moment by the U.S. military.

According to Miles there are two kinds of space in which a monument or public art work 'works'. One is the formal, 'value-free', framework of the architecture of the site and the other is the informal and mutable kind of public space composed of the space around the bodies of the city dwellers. This second informal space is 'replete with values, personal associations, appropriations, exclusions and invitations, and the shared and disputed issues of the public real, a set of overlaying spaces 'disordered' by the users, and as such a psychological space, which can not be defined by map coordinates.' Miles goes on to explain how these two spaces inform the role of public art: 'either public space creates wider access to the privileged aesthetic domain, but requires a level of cultural education if art is to be appreciated, [...] or art [...] is a form of street life, a means to articulate the implicit values of a city when its users occupy the place of determining what the city is.'

The sculpture  Old Norms New Forms  in Örebro is known first and foremost as "the Coffin" by its residents. An interesting example of the informal space Miles talkes about trumping the formal.

The sculpture Old Norms New Forms in Örebro is known first and foremost as "the Coffin" by its residents. An interesting example of the informal space Miles talkes about trumping the formal.

The next topic or concept that Miles brings up that is important, especially in relation to my own project that is in development, is the perhaps obvious reflection that violence seems to be central to the concept of the monument. Even when the monument does not depict an actual figure related to violence the cementing of a specific historic narrative is present in almost every public work of art. This depiction of a past as the past could well be viewed as a form of violence and is not only limited to the figurative art work but also of the abstract. Once again the space that the monument occupies and the material (and cost of production) creates a narrative of what forms of expression and versions of history are acceptable and by simple exclusion which are not.


This is getting lengthy - to be continued!

Works: exploding tree

The blank page/canvas is a foe not easily defeated. Many years ago I started drawing an image of an exploding tree on the first page of any new notebook I acquired. The tree is unimportant, it could as well be an airplane, a self-portrait or any other mundane subject - the point is to defeat the blank page. This notebook is much like any other notebook and I will treat it in the same fashion. So I begin with an exploding tree.

A5, graphite

A5, graphite