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7 weeks, 16 people

Taught with Krzysztof Wodiczko from October 4 through November 22, 2022, at The Alternative Art School.

In “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life,” Friedrich Nietzche asked, “What is the use to the modern man of this ‘monumental’ contemplation of the past, this preoccupation with the rare and classic?” That was 1874. Today, as monuments across the world are toppled, disgraced, vandalized, and defaced, his question pulses with renewed urgence. Re:monument departs from Nietzsche’s dilemma: What are we to do with our monuments to racism, white supremacy, colonialism, war, patriarchy, and oppressions manifold? How might we interrogate, interrupt, supplement, and refunctionalize the memorials that adorn our public spaces?

Together we will study tactics that empty monuments of their signification; reveal their artifice and incompleteness; animate, dislodge, and estrange them; and contest the disgraced memories they commemorate. And, through the development of monumental interventions over the course of the seven weeks, we will test new approaches of our own.

○ Required◌ Supplemental ● Assignment

1: WarnMonuments are contradictions incarnate. They at once remember a past as the past and warn, as the Latin root monēre suggests, about the future. They both remember and forget—and release us from the burden of remembering. As Pierre Nora writes, “the more memory comes to rest in its exteriorized forms, the less it is experienced internally.” And, in all of their spectacle, they recede into common sense. What strikes one most about monuments,” observes Robert Musil, “is that one doesn’t notice them. There is nothing in the world as invisible as monuments.” How are monuments so sensational and shy? What do they commemorate, and who do they disappear? Which tense do they occupy? What exactly is a monument anyway?

2: VoidIn response to the post-Buchenwald injunction to “never forget” emerged a new way of remembering: the counter-monument. Unlike the statues of old that, according to historian James E. Young, “provide[d] a naturalizing locus for memory, in which a state’s triumphs and martyrs, its ideals and founding myths are cast as naturally true as the landscape in which they stand,” the counter-monument demanded that monumentality itself be interrogated. How can monuments disclose their artifice and incompleteness? How, in other words, can memory be set “against itself”?

3: ContestIn 1982, Gegendenkmal was added to the German tryptic—Mahnmal, monument as warning; Denkmal, monument as reminder; and Ehrenmal, monument as honorific—to identify an emergent species of monument as confrontation. Rather than negating monumentality altogether, these monuments puncture historical amnesia to, as writes Zadie Smith on Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby and Fons Americanus, “show all of it, the unholy mix, the conscious knowledge and the subconscious reaction, the traumatic history and the trauma it has created, the unprocessed and the unprocessable.” How can monuments question other monuments? How might they lay bare memories ruinous and repressed?

4: Prototype

5: ReappropriateThe mayor pulls back the canvas on the city’s newest monument, Peace and Prosperity, to an improper sight: a tramp sleeping precariously in the lap of its central figure. The crowd is aghast. The sculptor is aggrieved. The police are summoned. The peace has been disturbed. In Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Kenneth Gross glimpses “the dream of the moving statue.” How can monuments be made to “move or speak, respond to a gesture, call out, look back at the person looking at it”? Is it possible to bring them to life “as oracle[s], enem[ies], guest[s], lover[s], mocker[s], or monster[s]”?

6: Dismantle“Rhodes Must Fall.” Since the bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes was covered with excrement at the University of Cape Town in 2015, “fallists” have toppled, redecorated, and disfigured monuments the world over. This iconoclasm isn’t new; as long monuments have been erected, they have been fell. The Romans even had a ritual for it: damnatio memoriae, which dishonored the “condemned memory” of the emperor by removing or altering his statue after death. What are we to do with our commemorations of the criminal? How do we reckon with “difficult heritages” and “places of pain and shame”?

7: Present