One never really sees a monument in a contemporary sense – more often they are physical follow-ups, bookending past time and space. Their lack of immediate relevance and dynamism allow them to be comfortably ignored as evidence of dues paid and boxes ticked.
In Sculpture in the Expanded Field, written for October magazine in 1978, Rosalind Krauss takes the work of Rodin as an example of the disassociation between sculptures and monuments. Before, they shared a “logic (as) commemorative representation. (Sculpture) sits in a particular place and speaks in a symbolical tongue about the meaning or use of that place.” According to Krauss, Gates of Hell and a statue of Balzac “failed” as monuments for both now exist only as many different versions within museums, with none at their originally intended site due to environmental unsuitability and high subjectivity. For these works, a lack of specific place was akin to entering a modernist state as sculpture, only “passing through” a monumental state – “producing the monument as abstraction, the monument as pure marker or base, functionally placeless and largely self-referential”.
Whilst sculpture has evolved through this fracturing from place and representation, monumentality has remained steadfastly sited. It needs the anchor of time and place to function in the way we perceive it should – that is, to denote or connote something specific. Whilst a monument can be visually abstract, it still needs the equation-like approach of what it truly represents, perhaps broken down into handy symbolic pieces for easy digestion. As a form that continues to follow its prescript function, the traditional monument remains true to architectural modernist principles today – sculpture, meanwhile, has not been so stunted.
If we shift the monument’s arena from the public space to the art space, however, the form is more malleable. Whilst sculpture is not of the same process as the monument, can physical monuments become something other than a sculptural object? What happens when we move away from the product, into a process-based look at a monument and its inherent relationships?
A Collaboration Monument is a project that explores such issues. Created by the Icelandic-Swedish artist duo Orn Alexander Ámundason and Olof Nimar, its collaboration is not ultimately between the two artists: working relationships are employed and layered, and then repeated. Formula is still implicit in these monuments, but as a course of action rather than a visual and conceptual encoder.
The power dynamics of this process are interesting in their footing and ambiguity. First, a “surrogate” from their host city is fed instructions via audio link to draw and erase vague marks and specific shapes, creating a picture through the artists’ commands. These drawings are then sent to a local architect to be interpreted into specific objects, materials and dimensions for a monument. This is then built, created or commissioned by the artists.
The project has been staged in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and most recently in Belfast. Whilst the formula remains the same, the implicit reasoning behind the monument’s surrogates, and fate of the monument, have varied – one surrogate had seen a ghost, whilst another was a member of a band, who ended up touring with the final monument on stage. In Belfast identical twins Claire and Karen Gibson were used as surrogates, each being fed the same information successively, in an at times contradictive way by the artists. Local set designer Stephen Bamford then interpreted the information into a plan, which was built by the artists and gallery in the space.
At a closer look the latter process has a dark humour. Identical twins as complementary “drawing tools” echo scientific and physiological studies, where matching genes assure a controlled experiment. The twins are further tokenised as being selected nationals of the host country, yet of no representative social demographic, and no real power to create beyond interpreting the fed instructions – none of which are justified or explained. No one claims to be an ambassador for anyone, anything, or any time. Nothing in the room, physical or drawn, requires a conceptual justification – it is an illustrated chain of command, of subtle supremacy yet also of letting go of control in ongoing reinterpretation.
Making a plan from the drawings becomes a more inherently creative act. Yet as 3D designers are employed, the plans are formed in a different field than the artists would work – moving between information structures, contexts and working sensibilities, information is lost and added. The ambiguity of language and pencil-on-paper is replaced with exact heights of wood and specified products from local shops, paradoxically a little surreal in its specific form.
The ongoing disassociation from the work is like an artistic safety net – ticking boxes for working in the public realm, the final product is something that deliberately alludes to but ultimately represents nothing, as the temporary monument that was initiated rather than tendered. It is a loaded, physical thing we don’t have to be precious about, which in a few weeks is taken down, scrapped or repurposed, or sited elsewhere. With no monumental anchor, or implicit political reference, the work is sculptural form that only passes through a monumental state – its fate mirror’s that of Rodin’s work, and is already sealed.