It’s been thirteen years and it doesn’t get any easier. On this day we are reminded at how delicate and tumultuous a time we’re all living in. As a city, a nation, and as human beings in a global community we need to stand strong and coexist together each and everyday. Socially engaged art is uplifting. Without being pragmatic it serves as a dialog about the human condition. Monuments can bring us together under a cathartic message of transcendence in troubled times.
Each year on the eve of September 11th I look towards downtown Manhattan and stop to contemplate the tranquility and solemn memorial Tribute in Light by artists Julian Laverdiere and Paul Myoda. Today the memorial reminds us of both our personal narratives and collective consciousness of that fateful day.
I also look back at important works of art that featured the site of the Towers looming over downtown Manhattan such as Agnese Denes’ Wheatfield-A Confrontation. While the work was created in 1982, decades before the attacks on the buildings, it’s humanist message resonates.
Agnes Denes’ said “The issues touched on in my work range between individual creation and social consciousness. They address the challenges of global survival and are often monumental in scale.” A pioneer of ecological environmental art, her work Wheatfield-A Confrontation transformed a neglected lot in former landfill just one block from Wall St. into a two-acre field of 1,000 pounds of harvestable wheat. According to Denes the work comments on “human values and misplaced priorities”. The harvested grain traveled to 28 cities throughout the world in “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger.” The documentation of this work of art is striking in the juxtaposition of the lush fields of golden wheat with the megacity and Twin Towers looming largely in the distance.
Both the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the resulting “War on Terror” have shaped the way monuments conflate victims and heroes. According to public art historian Harriet F. Senie, “Memorials built to these events created a new paradigm, one that conflated cemeteries with memorials, thereby shifting focus to the dead (often identified as heroes) rather than the events that caused their death. This approach has also created a new class of privileged victims, the victims’ families, who have played a dominant role in the memorial selection process. I argue that a more constructive approach for them and for the memorial process would have them define and manage a temporary interim memorial and/or ritual(s) until such time that a permanent memorial is built.”
Watch this lecture for more in depth discussion and ask yourself what do you take away from monuments and do you think they’re successful in the purpose they’re intended to serve?