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.
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 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!