The class has viewed several examples of memorials, including Most Serene Republic
by Internationally acclaimed Native American artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds who was chosen to participate in the 2007 Venice Biennial. Heap of Birds is a Professor at the University of Oklahoma where he teaches Native American Studies and Fine Arts. Heap of Birds, who is Cheyenne/Arapaho, has been creating site-specific installations, sculpture, drawings and prints in order to draw attention to the social and political injustices that the many native tribes of America
have endured and which the white culture has conveniently forgotten. He considered four components to his project to be placed in different locations at the Venice Biennale. One focuses on Venice’s role in the Fourth Crusade. Two others center on the warrior chiefs who traveled with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody‘s Wild West Show to Venice. The phrase ‘Most Serene Republics’ fosters a link to an ironic assessment of very hostile policies carried out by the church and republic during the ‘Fourth Crusade,’ years 1201-1204, in European history. Heap of Birds states, “These deeds of war were based primarily on religious, xenophobic and business interests that, when re-examined, reveal similar tactics relating to the current tragic war in Iraq.” Thus, as is his
usual practice of using the past to illuminate the present, he refers to President
George W. Bush who had used the word “crusade” in the initial stages of the war on terrorism.
Born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, Maya Lin catapulted into the public eye when, as a senior at
Yale University, she submitted the winning design to a national competition for the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C. Writing about the memorial, a black granite
wedge that emerges from and disappears into the ground, she says it “does not force or dictate
how you should think. In that sense it’s very Eastern. . .. It reflects me and my parents.” Her father was the Dean of Fine Arts at Ohio University, and her mother, Julia Chang Lin, is a professor of literature at Ohio University. “As the child of immigrants you have that sense of ‘Where are you? Where’s home?’” notes Lin, “and of trying to make a home.” Trained as an artist and architect, Lin’s
sculptures, parks, monuments and architectural projects are linked by a common ideal of making a place for individuals within the landscape.
Krzysztof Wodiczko, artist, professor and director of art, design and the public domain at Harvard Graduate School of Design is renowned for his large-scale slide and video projections on architectural facades and monuments around the world. He uses images and voices of the homeless, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, war veterans and other marginalized people in his work. His interrogative design practice, begun in Poland and continued at MIT, creates nomadic instruments for homeless and immigrant survival, communication, empowerment, and healing. His current projects concern the Ablution of War (also the title of his recent book) or the Unwar Memorial. Wodiczko’s socially engaged art practice entails forging trusting relationships with veterans, and giving voice to the voiceless so that they can speak about the unspeakable.
Wodiczko’s artistic practice focuses on those people who live in their monuments shadow, who are monuments to their own memories. Our monuments to historical events and heroes are metaphors or momento mori (from Latin ‘remember that you will die’). Wodiczko says, “We must create a site of rupture between the monument as symbol or sign of authority and the reality of the invisible public who have suffered unspeakable acts – those who have Hannah Arendt’s ‘right to have rights.’.”
Compare one of Wodiczko’s war veteran’s memorial projects with Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Discuss their physical differences, interpretive challenges and differences in public reactions.
Following your discussion of Wodiczko and Lin’s memorials, answer the questions below:
What is a memorial?
What should a memorial achieve?
What must an artist consider in designing a monument?