In ‘Monumental Seduction’ (1996), Andreas Huyssen suggested that historical, aesthetic and national contexts, along with political and cultural effects, dominate our understanding of the monumental, articulating the issue of the monumental in relation to memory and modernity. Bringing together the works of Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Iman Issa, Christian Jankowski, Amina Menia, Seher Shah and Santiago Sierra, Proposals on Monumentality attempts to twist and open up our perception of monumentality along with complex dynamics of commemoration, space and power. Curated by İpek Ulusoy Akgül, the exhibition poses a set of questions for us to reflect upon: Can monuments go beyond representing the past and evoking collective memory? Is it possible for them to resist absorption into memorial narratives? How can monuments express fragmentation and forgetting?
Such questions are particularly relevant in Heavy Weight History (2013), a work by Christian Jankowski whereby he investigates the role of people in crucial moments of history and juxtaposes the physical weight of monuments to their historical weight. In a 26-minute video, the artist playfully documents a group of Polish champion weightlifters attempting to lift monumental public sculptures in Warsaw, among which are a statute of Ronald Reagan and various Communist era-memorials. Using the language and aesthetics of mass media, often at the heart of his practice, Jankowski collaborates with a well-known sports commentator who narrates the unique ‘sports-artistic-historical’ event where lifters ‘challenge history’ with different levels of success. A black-and-white photograph of the first monument erected after liberation in 1945, commemorating the Polish People’s Army, accompanies the video installation. Jankowski, who had previously created numerous life-size public sculptures, continuously looks at spatial politics of public space and commemoration, and draws on issues of national self-image, communism and masculinity.
Also focusing on monumentality’s relationship to history, Aslı Çavuşoğlu traces often-ambiguous historical fragments, and questions the fictional nature of historiography through various media. In The Demolition of the Russian Monument at Ayastefanos (2011), the artist focuses on a historical moment in 1914 – the destruction of a Russian monument in Ayestefanos (present day Yeşilköy in Istanbul). Çavuşoğlu substitutes the missing footage for the event’s documentation by Ottoman army officer Fuat Uzkınay, who is commonly considered as the first Turkish filmmaker, with two found images – one before and the other after the war memorial’s demolition. Following her inquiry into rupture and continuity in history, she points at the power dynamics involved in processes of remembering and forgetting in the context of a monument’s purposeful destruction, or an attempt at erasing the formal marks of political failure.
Memory, identity, public space and local history are recurring themes in Amina Menia’s work that often goes beyond the gallery space through various architectural interventions. In her photographic series Chrysanthemums (2009-ongoing), she further explores these themes, ironically referring to inaugurer les chrysanthèmes (to inaugurate chrysanthemums), a French proverb well-known in the artist’s native Algeria. Having travelled along the country’s Northern coast as part of her ongoing research on multifaceted relationships between memory and space, she demonstrated a keen interest in two sets of monuments – vandalized, forgotten or ignored commemorative stelae and monuments dedicated to martyrs. As Menia reflects on post-colonial history and politics, she investigates highly-charged narratives and associations attached to these structures and their potential as political communication tools.