Architecture and memory

Architecture and memory

Throughout history nations have sought to exhibit social memory of their past achievements whilst conversely erasing the memory of transgressions committed during their development These nostalgic reflections of historic events have been both literally and figuratively portrayed in didactic monuments which carefully edify the events into clear depictions of state victory and triumph

However shifts in the discourse of twentiethcentury politics have given rise to the voice of the victim within these stories The traditional nationstate is now answerable to an international community rather than itself a community that acknowledges the importance of human rights and upholds moral conditions These states continue to construct an identity both in the past and present but are expected to acknowledge their own exclusions and accept culpability for their previous victimisations

In this new climate the traditional memorial does not become obsolete but instead evolves beyond a celebratory monument increasingly referencing the states transgressions and role as perpetrator This progressive switch in attitude has given birth to a new form of memorial the antimonument These contemporary memorials abandon figurative forms in preference of abstraction This medium facilitates a dialogical relationship between viewer and subject whilst also promoting ambivalence Critically this new typology allows the narrative of the victim and perpetrator to intertwine into a single united form a socalled move towards political restitution

This essay analyses the tradition and characteristics of historic monuments and the postindustrial development of the antimonument The essay studies and questions abstraction as the chosen vehicle of the antimonument using Peter Eisenmans Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a casestudy I argue that despite its achievement as a piece public art fundamentally it fails to perform its function of commemoration through its abstracted ambiguous form

Traditional monuments use figurative imagery to form an intuitive connection to the viewer They use language and iconography to present the onlooker with the states idealised perception of a significant event in history Throughout time these monuments have often outlasted the civilizations or political regimes who constructed them and as a result their unchallenged specific narrative becomes definitive all memory of an alternative narrative is lost with the passing of witnesses who could recall the actual events This has the negative consequence of alleviating the presentday visitor of responsibility for the past and fails to accommodate the constantly changing and varied perspective of the viewer In this respect the permanence of the traditional monument presents an unchallengeable story which becomes an active presence to the visitor who is always the receptive element

However events of the twentieth century such as the atomic blast at Hiroshima and the atrocity of the Holocaust altered commemorate practice Memorials were no longer militaristic and celebratory but instead acknowledged the crimes of the state against civilians Designers were faced with the innumerable challenge of memorialising the most quintessential example of mans inhumanity to man the Holocaust An event so catastrophic it prevented any attempt to singularly record the individual victim The new typology that emerged would later be defined as the antimonument

The antimonument aimed to dispel previous memorial convention by favoring a dialogical form over the traditional didactic monument This new memorial typology avoided literal representation through figurative expression and written word in favor of abstraction This move toward the abstract enabled the viewer to now become the active element and the monument to become the receptive element a rolereversal that allowed the visitor to bring their own interpretation to the memorial James E Young commented that the aim of these memorials

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