Friday, March 2, 2007

Reflecting on "Reflecting Absence" (WTC memorial)

NOTE: This is an excerpt from an essay just uploaded to the Forgotten Delights website, which includes more photos.

... Reflecting Absence's main elements are two large reflecting pools, a couple dozen trees, and lists of victims' names. Landscape architecture such as trees and pools can create beautiful vistas, but it conveys no message about those who died on 9-11.

A list of names is also by its nature limited. Proper names are neither meaningful nor evocative for those who know nothing about the lives and characters of the people named. Broadcast the name "Derek Jeter" in Yankee Stadium and you'll get shouts of approving recognition. Broadcast it in the capital city of Kazakhstan and you'll get perplexed silence.

Representational art, on the other hand, is a universal language. If the actions and characters of human figures are competently portrayed, such art has an emotional impact that transcends space and time. Think of Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Munch's The Scream. Their impact remains strong despite the fact that both were produced by men who didn't speak English or know what a USB port is. Nearer to home, think of the Firemen's Memorial on Riverside Drive. Although the firefighting equipment and the costumes in the central relief are long out-dated, we can immediately grasp the message: the urgency and danger of firefighters' work.

If you doubt the efficacy of representational art as opposed to proper names and landscape architecture, take someone who's unfamiliar with New York memorials to see the Firemen's Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the New York Police Department Memorial. ...

Reflecting Absence isn't offensive - but why should we settle for a multi-million-dollar placeholder when we could have an expressive representational work of art?

What should the expressive artwork express? ...

The full essay on the Forgotten Delights site includes contact info for those concerned with the memorial, directions to the sculptures mentioned, and related readings.

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