«PREVIEW Book will be out in early 2014 Widrich_Monuments.indd 1 23/09/2013 14:18 series editors Amelia G. Jones, Marsha Meskimmon Rethinking Art’s ...»
PREVIEW -- Book will be out in early 2014
Widrich_Monuments.indd 1 23/09/2013 14:18
Amelia G. Jones, Marsha Meskimmon
Rethinking Art’s Histories aims to open out art history from its
most basic structures by foregrounding work that challenges
the conventional periodisation and geographical subfields of
traditional art history, and addressing a wide range of visual
cultural forms from the early modern period to the present.
These books will acknowledge the impact of recent scholarship on our understanding of the complex temporalities and cartographies that have emerged through centuries of world-wide trade, political colonisation and the diasporic movement of people and ideas across national and continental borders.
Also available in the series Art, museums and touch Fiona Candlin The ‘do-it-yourself’ artwork: Participation from fluxus to relational aesthetics Anna Dezeuze (ed.) After the event: New perspectives in art history Charles Merewether and John Potts (eds) Photography and documentary film in the making of modern Brazil Luciana Martins Women, the arts and globalization: Eccentric experience Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy Rowe (eds) After-affects|after-images: Trauma and aesthetic transformation in the virtual Feminist museum Griselda Pollock Vertiginous mirrors: The animation of the visual image and early modern travel Rose Marie San Juan The newspaper clipping: a modern paper object Anke Te Heesen, translated by Lori Lantz Screen/space: The projected image in contemporary art Tamara Trodd (ed.) Widrich_Monuments.indd 2 23/09/2013 14:18 Performative monuments The rematerialisation of public art Mechtild Widrich Manchester University Press Manchester and New York distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan Widrich_Monuments.indd 3 23/09/2013 14:18 Copyright © Mechtild Widrich 2014 The right of Mechtild Widrich to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accor
There is an aphorism by Robert Musil, first printed in his 1936 Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, to the effect that ‘there is nothing in the world as invisible as monuments’.1 We simply overlook traditional monumental sculpture in public space. The statues of great heroes and formerly famous poets have mysteriously fallen silent. Worse, we throw the famous deceased, with a stone monument around their necks, into a sea of forgetting. Musil’s text, especially the sentence cited above, is quoted often in defence of contemporary public art. The brief essay, originally delivered as a talk on 10 December 1927, puts great emphasis on the monument’s need for attention from an audience.2 And that is because this audience is itself the monument’s target.
The job of monuments, according to Musil, is to kick-start commemoration (ein Gedenken erst zu erzeugen), to ‘grab our attention and give our feelings a pious direction; and at this their main business monuments fail always’.3 Musil uses the German term Denkmal, usually translated as monument, but literally a mark to think.4 The Austrian writer and critic sees the function of the monument as social through and through, a function obscured by undue focus on a few great artistic monuments of the past that people seek ‘with Baedeker in hand’, like the Venetian Colleoni and the Paduan Gattamelata.
These ‘energetic monuments’ have nothing to do with the dullness of the equestrian statues still commissioned in Musil’s day. These pale in comparison with advertisement, which knows very well how to meet its audience.
At least, Musil suggests innocently, statues could clap their eyes open and shut, or carry slogans like ‘Goethe’s Faust is the best!’ Thus they could avoid the ‘oil on water effect’, wherein our attention slides off them like water off a duck’s back as we make our way through the city.5 Why do we do this? It is not malice on our part, but the plain need to orient ourselves in public, free of the encumbrance and individual attention that political art demands of its subjects. ‘The arm points forward imperiously, but no one thinks to obey it.’6 No one fears the drawn sword of the hero, no one steps out of the way of his charging steed. ‘By God! Monument figures make no step forward, and yet they’re always making a faux pas.’7 What Musil has put his finger on here is
If the Bataille Monument itself consists in part in the selling of kebab, lending videos, and broadcasting amateurs, in short, in the social connections and press that the work generates, it follows that the monument is a temporally and physically distributed event. Following this idea, one could consider Hirschhorn’s statement, the newspaper interview and the resulting article, and other such acts and objects, as themselves parts of the monument, since they partake in the creation and maintenance of its social goals. Indeed, such a way of reading the publicity around the monument can hardly be seen as against the grain, since the statements in question fit the requirements for a ‘monument from below’ that Hirschhorn himself articulated. These strategies are more familiar from ephemeral urban performance art than from monumental sculpture.10 But they are not the end of the story. After the ‘precarious’, ‘ephemeral’ exhibition has ended, there remain individuals who remember having participated in or encountered the work, and documents and artefacts that recorded its presence. The public statements and press clips that seemed so ‘action-like’ a moment ago immortalize the project as Thomas Hirschhorn, Bataille Monument, 2002 (snack bar), documenta 11, Kassel,
working in public space, came not just to resemble monuments in their performances but to be interested in just those problems of political representation and its relation to the spectator that drove Musil’s questions about monuments.
They thus reoriented public art around an intersection of performance and the monument, of which Hirschhorn is only a recent manifestation. There are many varieties of this engagement, which in its paradigmatic form I call the performative monument. Their common denominator, audience participation, is an inheritance of performance art. Some are ephemeral objects in a literal sense – like the Bataille Monument, dismantled after documenta closed. This might suggest ephemerality as their practice, and main affinity to performance, but this suggestion is deceptive. For instance, the cars used for the shuttle service of the Bataille Monument were auctioned on eBay – signed by the artist, no less (Figure 2). Does that mean that a part of Hirschhorn’s monument persists in some collector’s home, or, unsettling thought, plies the streets of Europe? I should say not: there is no medium-specific law of ephemerality of objects in play, endangering the ‘precariousness’ of Hirschhorn’s temporary monument.
What I see, rather, is the paradoxical situation that the temporal limitation of the monument has given it a retrospective interest issuing in such actions as the auction. In any case, an interest in a past event, not in a present artefact, motivated the sale and other extensions of the Bataille Monument. And that, however marginally, makes that summer’s event in Kassel – not the tree stump, not the car – into a performative monument.
Thomas Hirschhorn, Bataille Monument, 2002 (car service), documenta 11, Kassel,
Historical and theoretical aims The artists I discuss in this study developed in a period during which monuments stood for monumentality and were largely discredited as authoritarian. Musil’s literary account is in a way matched by the efforts of the architectural avant-garde of the 1930s, from conservative modernist Peter Meyer to Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne founder and technophile Sigfried Giedion. These critics initiated an international debate about the status of monumentality, hoping to produce an alternative to the ‘pseudomonumentality’ of fascism and Stalinism, a new form of monumentality responsive to the needs of communities, not governments.13 The debate went largely unheard within art circles. Architecture became important in artistic practice of the 1960s, however, both in the
discourse of minimalist spatial experience and as a marker of a vaguely threatening public sphere.
The ‘monumentality’ of architecture stood for authority in general, and while avant-garde architects such as Superstudio in Italy and Robert Venturi in America redefined highway ramps and fast-food stands as the ‘real’ contemporary monument, artists started experimenting with historical and social aspects of public space, reconsidering their own involvement in the production and mediation of Öffentlichkeit (publicness).14 Often, they used their own physical presence to trip the hidden wires of power that they saw in monumental architecture. The turning point is the early 1970s, when a counter-cultural rhetoric of revolutionary presence cooled into works experimenting with the collaboration between act and mediation. To trace a shift from confrontational performance to media performance in public space, and finally performative monuments, and link these to long-running debates on what public art is, while showing the political breadth of the monument, is the historical aim of this book.
Theoretically, my task is to understand the combination of political needs and aesthetic solutions proposed for them that comprise the performative monument. The historical bookends of this development are the Second World War and 1989, the much-repressed memory of the Holocaust in the decades after 1945 and the politics of the Cold War. Not all artworks I discuss deal explicitly with history, but all can be read in tension between the individual and the (mass-) political in Europe after 1945, where so much stress lay on memory and its suppression. These circumstances provide us with a necessary footing for understanding how the performative monument became a privileged mode of reckoning with the past. The ascendancy of the new monument coincides with the memory boom – and debate – of the 1990s. By taking into consideration the more recent problematization of audience participation in both architecture and performance, and by acknowledging the historical heterogeneity of public space and experience, I strive to go beyond a study of
contested notion of nation in general, trying to arrive at a democratic model of ‘citizens’ rather than national subjects. Chapter 4 begins with the Venice Biennale of 1976, remarkable for contributions by Joseph Beuys, Jochen Gerz, and Reiner Ruthenbeck that circle around the monument as metaphor for national identity. Gerz’s 1986 Monument against Fascism, a column that visitors signed as a protest against fascism and that was lowered into the ground when enough signatures had accumulated, is key to this development.
Against the orthodox view of this work as blandly permitting a stand for or against fascism, I show how Gerz, who came out of performance, used the force of monumental speech-acts developed in Venice to arrive at a public art that aims at contractually binding its spectators as agents.
The subject matter of the book is thus geographically and temporally distributed, addressing artists and spectators on both sides of the Second World War and the Cold War, in geographically and culturally adjacent stretches of Central Europe. Given this focus, a few words are required on the method and terminology of my study. I have discussed ‘performance’ and ‘monument’, and will further historicize these terms, but it is worth stating right away that I do not use ‘performative’ simply as the adjective of performance. Performance art is sometimes but not always performative, as, I claim, are monuments. What these works have in common that is of interest to me is their performative force, the fact that through conventional gestures they effect changes in social reality.15 The model I employ to extract these social implications is speech-act theory, itself a philosophical product of the period under study. This will involve a particular modification of speech-acts or ‘performatives’, as defined by the English philosopher J.L. Austin in lectures of the mid-1950s, to works of art, in particular though not exclusively photographs. Though my reading of Austin is informed by later criticisms, notably Jacques Derrida’s claim that the frame of communication can never be exactly determined, and thus, that effects are unpredictable, I think that Austin’s texts anticipate most objections. A careful reading of his texts shows an awareness of the instabilities of communication, instabilities that are even more acute in artistic contexts (Austin himself tended to exclude ‘art’ speech from his preliminary analysis). It is revealing that Austin’s theory was adapted by the German post-war philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who has made the performative central to his reconstruction of democratic political theory and, less successfully, commemoration.
The speech-act model, which I will describe in detail later, is concerned with acts of representation that bring about what they represent. Analogously, I will show how the contemporary monument does not ‘tell’ political facts, but engages audiences in forming new ones. Herein lies their political appeal, but also their danger. Can political art deal with the past, when its results are not representations of the past but new historical facts? Here we must rethink art’s function, which is not that of bearer of information, however theoretical