Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Challenging the Conventional Memorial

Jim Gallucci, a friend and artist working out of Greensboro, NC has been developing a memorial for years now called “The Gates” that honors those who died in the September 11th attacks. Jim acquired several pieces of mangled steel from the World Trade Center site. He then asked people to send letters expressing their feelings, prayers, and condolences. He incorporated quotes from those letters into the sculpture, creating a gate of sorts- a repeating theme in his work. The sculpture also references the architecture of the building and hints at the tumbling debris. Conceptually, Jim captures many feelings in this work, the overall sense of mourning, the act itself, the sense of national (world-wide?) sadness and heartache.

So why has he not found a sponsor, someone to finish paying for its construction and a place for it to rest? It is not because of the lack of publicity- it has been featured in Life Magazine, Southern Living, and National Geographic. Not for the want of a good place to put it, it was on display for a time at the 82nd Airborne Museum in Fayetteville, NC. Not for it’s artistic merit. Many an aesthetically dead memorial exists around the country- most are poorly designed stone monoliths with little more attention paid to design than the font of the lettering. I think the reason why Jim has not found a home for his work lies in why we make memorials the way we do-even the bad ones- and how Jim’s does not fit into that mold.

Most memorials, even the great ones, are designed to exclude any visual representation of the event. Let’s consider the Lincoln Memorial, the grand-daddy of them all. Walking up the steps and peering up at the seated Lincoln and then turning to look out over the mall is a mountain top experience. But nowhere do you see a visual reminder of the tragedies of that war; the trenches filled with the sibling-dead of Confederate and Union soldiers is never referenced. Only the over arching nobility of the brooding, wise, Lincoln sitting as Zeus sat in his temple eons ago. That brings us to the Greek Temple surrounding Lincoln, it was not solely chosen to match to architectural decor of the mall. An alternate design considered would have made it a Pyramid to match the Washington Monument’s Egyptian roots. I think the Greek Temple was chosen because it visually spoke of the Greek’s passion for order, balance, and universal proportion. It works. I never feel better about my country, democracy, and the world than when I stand on those steps, reminded of our highest ideals, with the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. thrown in for good measure.

The Greek temple works because it makes our own the Greeks’ desire to find order in a world filled with chaos. In comparison, Jim’s memorial freezes the act of destruction, of chaos. This is not a criticism. I am only pointing out a difference in his work vs. the many other memorials we create. Look at the other memorials in Washington; the Vietnam Memorial (Maya Lin’s), the WWII memorial, the Koran Memorial, even JFK’s eternal flame. All of them erase the chaos and add in its place order. Maybe we need this in our memorials. Maybe we need to feel a sense of nobility, peace, and order in these holy places. But there is the rub; war and conflict are not noble, peaceful, or ordered. Just ask any veteran. Beneath my sense of awe when in these places sits a critic with an ironic smile. It asks “Why do we build memorials filled with our highest ideals to events that represent the worst in human nature?” Does creating such moments insure that the horror of the act will be forgotten and more easily repeated?

Jim Gallucci’s memorial challenges these conventions. It puts the chaos in our face. It quotes the broken hearts of all of us who lost so much on that fateful day. It includes a relic from the battle field. It captures the moment of collapse. This makes Jim’s sculpture good, even profound, art in my book- but maybe not the best memorial.

Maybe we all need to follow Jim’s lead and leap over the concept of the standard memorial to human conflict, making them artistic reminders of the chaos they really are- would we then work harder to make our highest ideals real and lasting?

1 comment:

Jim Gallucci said...

I just saw this recently. Thanks for the interesting take on the 9-11 Project.

The project was never intended to be a "memorial". My intentions were that it be viewed as a work of sculpture capturing those specific moments - the crashes of each plane. The project was intended to be opposite a memorial in the traditional sense because it's NOT about making order out of chaos, as typical memorials are, as you say. It's not about quiet reflection, it's about vivid remembrance.

Your blog is an interesting take on memorials. Thanks for the notice!