Looking for answers on public memorials and monuments. Two proposals

Nomanslanding Sculpture

Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin, Nomanslanding, 2015.
Image: Darling Harbour / Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

During this centenary of WWI (2014-2018) a great number of ceremonies and memorials are proliferating in most of Europe in remembrance of the victims of the Great War. Australia, so far away as it is from that battle ground, is not indifferent to this sad anniversary as this year they celebrate the creation, 100 years ago, of the ANZAC, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, that took part, among others, in the tragic battle of Gallipoli in Turkey where 8,000 of them died. Nowadays, Anzac Day (25th April) also remembers to all Australians that lost their lives in WWII and in subsequent military actions up to date.

YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall Sculpture

Tony Albert, YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall, 2015, Hyde Park, commissioned by City of Sydney for the Eora Journey, Curator Hetti Perkins. Image by Paul Patterson.

On such dates one always wonders about the role of public monuments nowadays. In a time when the pervasiveness of media and the easy access to information through the Internet give us the opportunity to remember any historical event or personality in a matter of seconds from our comfortable lounge, what’s the meaning of a statue in the middle of a park remembering something that happened maybe centuries ago? Which guidelines stipulate who or what is worthy of a monument? How can we make sure that passersby know what is that monument about?

Doubtlessly, the heavy symbolic charge of public monuments and memorials doesn’t allow easy answers to our questions. From the first prehistoric communities, man has spread monuments around the world whatever the culture, civilization or period. In ancient times they were mainly sacred, and more recently they have been linked to the leading power structures of their time. Present day interactive technologies that lead to the so-called participatory culture -mainly in younger generations- demand a reassessment of the initiatives that affect communities and, I think, it should include contemporary public monuments. Turning them in spaces of gathering and reflection is a sensible option. Nevertheless, city councils and commissioners keep invariably a strong link with the tradition of permanent artworks non site-related.

Nomanslanding Sculpture

Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin, Nomanslanding, 2015. Image: Darling Harbour / Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

This Australian autumn, in the frame of the celebrations of the Anzac centenary, Sydney has presented two new public artworks of remembrance of both world wars. Their different approaches give us a very interesting view of the possibilities of public memorials.

YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall Sculpture

Tony Albert, YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall, 2015, Hyde Park, commissioned by City of Sydney for the Eora Journey, Curator Hetti Perkins. Image by Paul Patterson.

YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall honors the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders soldiers that took part in WWII with the Anzac. Those who were lucky enough to return to Australia didn’t receive any compensation for their heroic actions as it happened with the non-Indigenous military. The monument consists on 7 huge bullets, four of them are standing and the other three are the shells lying on the floor regarding an event that the artist’s grandfather lived as a POW in Italy, where he was almost executed, together with other 6 Indigenous soldiers. We can’t say that the memorial itself is a gathering place. Still, its placement close to the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park south that was used by the Gadigal people as a ceremonial ground until the nineteenth century contributes to build an atmosphere of assembly. In addition, its really significance resides in the necessary and too long waited explicit acknowledgement of the participation of Indigenous peoples in WWII.

Tony Albert, the Aboriginal Girramay artist that is the author of the memorial, is deeply committed with the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities in the Australian society. In his artworks he shows mainly images that unsettle the viewer in some way as they reveal the inequalities that even now exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia.

YININMADYEMI is the third artwork that is produced by the City of Sydney in the framework of the Eora Journey project that celebrates the living culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Sydney. Within 10 years from 2010 they will launch seven public artworks by artists from these communities in the City.
Nomanslanding Sculpture

Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin, Nomanslanding, 2015, Darling Harbour / Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. Image by Paula Llull

During the same week, a very different remembrance artwork dedicated to the WWI was launched in Darling Harbour on the initiative of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. Result of the collaboration between three curators (Katja Aßmann, Michael Cohen and Lorenzo Mele) and five artists (Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker + Observatorium, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin) from Europe and Australia, Nomanslanding is an accurate combination of the different artists’ disciplines: a structure whose limits between architecture and sculpture are vague, integrated in an urban aquatic environment and completed with sound, acoustics and performance as main features. These elements are embodied in two floating structures that become a dome when put together. Visitors access the dome through two walkways that start in the opposing shores of the waterway. The artistic experience starts from the moment when one wears the life vest that is situated inside an army tent in each shore at the starting point for the walkways. Once inside the dome it becomes a space for contemplation, war sounds take us to a tense atmosphere that ends with a poetic lament.

Nomanslanding Sculpture

Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin, Nomanslanding, 2015, Darling Harbour / Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. Image by Paula Llull

In spite of its structural complexity and its big size, Nomanslanding is a temporary artwork that is touring in Europe after its presentation in Sydney last April. The next sites, Glasgow and Duisburg, are two cities where waterways play a decisive role in their configuration apart from their participation in WWI. In this way, Nomanslanding answers successfully to the challenge posed by the curators at the beginning of the project: “how do we create site specific work that is both grounded in place and made to tour?” This is, I think, a really innovative approach to the idea of a contemporary memorial -although neither artists nor curators use this word to describe the work- which is creating an itinerant artwork that at the same time meets the site-specificity guidelines -whether they are physical or conceptual in each of the sites: Clyde river in Glasgow (Scotland, 13th July – 2nd August) and the river harbour in Duisburg (Germany, 14th August – 13 September).

By Paula Llull

For more information:

YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall

Nomanslanding

Eora Journey project (City of Sydney)

One response

  1. There is only one monumental portrait of the great CANADIAN Ojibwa artist NORVAL MORRISSEAU…SEE; MORRISSEAU PORTRAIT – SPECIAL EDITION – 2015 YOUTUBE VIDEO

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