In 1995, Horst Hoheisel responded to a competition to design a “Berlin Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe” with a provocation. Inflate the Brandenburg Gate, he said, and the scorched earth will become a new Holocaust monument. The artist certainly thought it unlikely that the triumphal arch and emblem of Prussian power would really be leveled to the ground. But his unfulfilled plan draws attention to how public monuments so often follow the same scripture: unshakable obelisk and corrugated columns, heroic figures on horseback. What if the act of remembering the past cannot be encapsulated in the erection of another monument, but in the absence of one?
Monuments haunt us and haunt ourselves. The expansive, cerebral exhibition Will at Goldsmiths Center for Contemporary Art – a former Victorian bathhouse in south-east London – provides a test site for 47 artists to create proposals that respond to the feverish debate surrounding public sculpture. It comes in the same month that a man scaled down BBC Broadcasting House to take a hammer to Eric Gill’s “Prospero and Ariel” in protest of the artist’s abuse of his daughters; the “Colston Four” activists have been acquitted of criminal damages for their role in overthrowing the statue of the slave trader in Bristol in 2020; A New York statue has been removed showing President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse, flanked by two bare-chested men of Native American and African descent.
Exploring the shamanic energy of monuments, Zadie Xa and Benito see Mayor Vallejo’s trippy oil painting “Proposition for Earth Prosperity” (2021) a tree growing out of a conch and, sitting on its branches, a fox, seagull , energy and cabbage. A reference to a Korean totem pole, it is meant to provide protection against evil – the artists suggest pasting it into the Thames. From a similarly maximalist imagination, Monster Chetwynd’s “A Monument to the Unstuffy and Anti-Bureaucratic” (2019) places a large green foam animal on a wooden stage – a cartoon-like monstrosity that appears to appear from the pages of a medieval manuscript jumped. but in whose gums visitors can sit. Laure Prouvost offers a study for an arch in some rural garden: teats sprout from the roof; bottles of hand sanitizer are put in the walls. “Go through this gate and be free from it all,” she promised.
Elsewhere, stretched out over a short white pedestal, a cat slumbers, its gray and white fur spotted and matte; the legs of the animatronic creature crawl over the edge. The accompanying text of Ryan Gander’s sculpture tells the story of a presentation at a public art competition at a university in Bergen, Norway, in which the artist suggested that the budget be reinvested in an annual scholarship; Gander also stipulated that a Norwegian Forest Cat be introduced to the college, allowed to walk around at will, with the new scholar responsible for its care. The (unrealized) proposal points out how public art often does a poor job of understanding who its “public” is in the first place. What a monument it did something for us? Artist Ghislaine Leung responded in her own way by filling one gallery with a giant inflatable bar.
Not everything is insanely free for everyone. Various designs evoke feelings of melancholy and loss. In Olu Ogunnaike’s “I’d rather stand” (2022), pieces taken from the factory floor of a luxury hardwood supplier are ground together, the shards of oak, ash and elm are printed in the shape of Trafalgar Square’s empty Fourth Base and it turned around. to a monument that feels uncertainly built. A video by artist Lawrence Lek shows what a memorial to memory loss might look like, with the Greek myth of Nepenthe, a drink of forgetfulness. His film recreates a gallery of the CCA as a bustling video game space that is constantly collapsing on itself.
Tanoa Sasraku’s “Part and Proposal: Storr” (2021) takes the form of an eroded map created by a reverse process of “constructive self-destruction”: the artist collects sheets of newspaper, rubs it with a red ocher which was eaten on the island. of Skye, immersed them in seawater and then cut through to reveal rippling layers of the mineral pigment. Its fully realized form will trace the contours of the British Isles: a haunting anti-monument that evokes a sense of deep, geological time resonating beneath it.
The extraction of the relationship between the shape of monuments and the body becomes a thread through the display. Stuart Middleton dramatically unfolds a banner of stitched clothing donated by friends, family and colleagues, a monument to everyday human contact that flows down the gallery’s balconies. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Price uses cloth to represent something darker: her curtain of purple, black and green satin is a veil to hide an unspecified statue. The artist was inspired by her Catholic childhood and how, with Easter, statues in the church were often draped in dark silk. Suddenly the images became faceless – “strange, morbid, terrible” – she recalls.
The exhibition’s misfires come in its more didactic parts. Jeremy Deller’s memorial plaque, “Culture War Memorial” (2022), provides a clear one-line message announcing “a memorial to family and friends who have been radicalized and lost to us by disinformation and conspiracy theories” that “will take the form of” a seemingly bottomless sinkhole. ”Artist Yuri Pattison obtained a dismantled Heathrow immigration control desk, crouching in the middle of a gallery, ugly and useless, a monument to an imaginary borderless future.
Better are proposals that cause a more ambivalent response to monument making. Adham Faramawy’s short film “A proposal for a parakeet’s garden” (2021) calls for “a monument to the displaced” in apparent reference to the growing population in the UK of the vivid green birds posed by some as a “wild” threat is stamped. . The artist’s bird paradise works as an atmospheric figure for anxiety about immigration. “Share the abundance that your fathers stole. Let them come, ”he begs.
A sculptor once remarked to me that public monuments, although allegedly designed to suggest feelings of remembrance and reverence, are all too often a way of forgetting, of chiseling and moving memories in cold stone. (A decade ago, for example, how many Oxford students would have recognized the slightly crumpled man sleeping on top of Oriel College, now commonly known as the controversial Cecil Rhodes?). Rather than worrying about whether our renewed interest in these statues is part of “cancellation culture”, we might rather ask: what was the purpose of the monument in the first place? Was it really to open us meaningfully to the past, or simply a symbol of an established order?
As I turn to leave, I meet Phyllida Barlow’s “untitled: hostage” (2022): two stumps – with a scarlet tear – suffocated in a menacing black hood. The ominous object is accompanied by a disturbing text in which the artist remembers watching his footage with an Iranian student of a woman being stoned in her homeland. The text captures snippets of panicked conversation as the artist gradually realizes she is looking at a woman’s body “shrouded, wrapped and tied up”. She remembers feeling ashamed to witness the murder, but was unable to look away. Here the monument took root in the mind: haunting, threatening and eternal. Testament, indeed.
Until April 3, goudsmidscca.art
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