teCLa :: Rivista #4

in questo numero contributi di Stefano Colonna, Edoardo Dotto, Giuseppe Pucci, Gabriele Scaramuzza, Alexander Auf Der Heyde Stefano Valeri Michele Dantini Clarissa Ricci.

codice DOI:10.4413/RIVISTA - codice ISSN: 2038-6133
numero di ruolo generale di iscrizione al Registro Stampa: 2583/2010 del 27/07/2010

The posthumous attitude of the contemporary monuments di Clarissa Ricci

Anti-monument[1]. Counter-monument[2]. Unmonumental[3]. These are some of the words we often run into when reading about monuments created by artists today. It seems there is no other way to speak about these artworks than through the negation of what they actually are (anti-monuments, counter-monuments) or through the lack of what ‘monument’ connotes (un-monumental). This paper will try to show that the reason why this negation takes place is because monuments behave in a different way, engaging acts of becoming and calling into play a diverse perceptive temporal mode, which I shall describe as the posthumous nature of the Future Anterior.

Where the Future Anterior is the temporal mode[4] through which monuments present themselves and posthumous is «relation with death, with ‘the after’, that each artwork which aspires to become a monument, stipulates»[5].

The physical and moral wound inflicted by World War II, by the discovery of concentration camps and many other types of atrocities against the human race, brought into the arts a belief that it would have been impossible to build monuments again[6]. 

However 1989 brought a fundamental change: the renewed European political situation infused the younger generations with a new vitality and we assist at the proliferation of monuments like no other time before in this century. The oddity of such a situation is evident considering that artists often declared the obsolescence of monuments[7] as a genre, sidelining it with a contestation of the role of the museum: the very last monument of art.

Construction of new monuments follows and ac-companies the destruction of many others.

What we see in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communist Regime in many Central and Eastern Countries in Europe is something that can be considered an iconoclastic gesture[8] (destruction of monuments) which becomes, as we’ll see below, on reverse a construction site.

1989 brings to a situation where in many squares we encounter empty pedestals. This odd situation enables an Entwicklungsfähigkeit[9] to take place. The empty pedestal instead of recalling the loss, the destruction opens up towards new possibilities acting as a platform, a base of a new civic understanding.

Temporality’s changed paradigm: the posthumous of the future anterior

Since the first examples of statues, which Jean-Pierre Vernant in Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (1965) identifies in the kolossòs[10], there is a tight relation between sculpture and temporality. But when at the beginning of the 1900 spatial elaboration[11] becomes central to art, a change in the tight relation with temporality, whose redefinition started mainly with the experience of Land Art, occurs[12].

If in traditional sculpture the time to think and realize the art work are part of the final stage of the object, with Land Art and the experimentations of the sixties, time for thinking and doing becomes as important as the finished artwork. To understand this clearly we just need to think at the Verb List[13] (1972) which Richard Serra compiles in order to define what is sculpture: not an object with specific characteristics, but actions done in the present tense, which last as much as the work itself. Taken to its extremes, this procedure gives life to artworks which exist only in the making, while they’re being produced. A sublime example of this are like the traces in the sand made by Richard Long, which exist only for few seconds until the desert wind will blow them a way.

Nowadays this heritage’s visible in the altars, kiosks and monuments by Thomas Hirshhorn. Made mostly out of waste, cardboard, wood and tape this works aren’t intended to last, conceived the way they are, as independent from the museum and from the art system.Such monuments are usually devoted to the community of the specific area where the work will then be realized, and ask for a close participation of the viewer; these artworks are such until they are kept alive by the viewers participating in it. «My monuments are temporary, they are not made to be looked at, you can understand them only if you use them. For me sculpture is an event, an experience, not a spectacle»[14]. If Hirshhorn’s monuments are experiences, which don’t last much in time, how can they hand down the memory of the thinkers and poets they are dedicated to? To better understand this we probably need to shift our point of view from the idea of History towards that of «temporal mode» as Koselleck introduces it in Future Pasts showing that, with the advent of modernity, the past and the future became ‘relocated’ in relation to each other. The perspective that opens up in front of an historical subject is doubled by the perception of the site occupied by the subject, one characterized by a conjunction of heterogeneous dimensions of the contemporaneity of the “non-contemporaneous”[15].

This type of experience can be lived in Monument to a lost glove, of Illya and Emilia Kabakov. First realized in Lion in 1996, then replicated in New York in 1997, it’s visible today in Basel near the Monument of Modern Art.

A red glove is abandoned on the street. Around it there are, arranged in a semicircle, 9 bookstands on which the history of a woman, who could be the owner of the glove, is written, in poetic form, in different languages. Every bookstand tells a different story. So there are 9 different stories, 9 different versions, 9 different characters and biographies.

Even if the installation was placed at an intersection on very busy street, people would tend to stop and wonder why 9 bookstands were in the middle of such street. Once it was understood it had nothing to do with a commercial strategy, people would slow down, change pace and read some of the stories. In the very fast dynamics of a big city this installation would for a moment change the rhythm of a given space, allowing the viewer to experience, in the middle of a busy day, the «library effect» of passing from a text to another in total intimacy[16].

In this work the text becomes the constitutive element: it not only explains the nature of the installation, but also adds fantasies, dreams and stories about the possibility of the work. At the same time the title «Monument to…» reminds us of traditional monuments.

Although does this piece of the Kabakovs really commemorate a lost glove?

The glove, if lost, couldn’t be «there» anymore. As we can see, the glove is lost for the owner who passed by where the viewer’s now standing, it belongs to someone they have never met. The monument is such because of what’s left behind. It’s as if we arrived just a second after the glove fell out of the lady’s bag. But we weren’t there when it happened. We couldn’t call the lady back to return the glove; we got there late, after it all happened.

We’re left only with something to wonder about. The work, in this case, comes alive only after the loss of the glove. The event, which makes our imagination wonder, exists after its end. The only actuality we perceive is made of what’s left, what comes after. Remembering Walter Benjamin statement[17]  [18] we come to realize that the only actuality we perceive is made of what’s left, what comes after.

Gilles Deleuze, rethin-king Foucault in What is Philosophy? enunciates: «the actual isn’t what we are but what we’ll become, what we are becoming, the Other, our becoming other (becoming something-else). The present, instead, is what we are, and for this reason is what we stop being»[19]. As a result who views Monument to a lost glove becomes something else, becomes «the Other» in every story he reads on the bookstand, in every story he imagines in his fantasy, where one finds many other single gloves in order to loose them again and start a new story.

In an other monument, The Weakening voice (1998), posed by Illya and Emilia Kabakov on a slope near the city walls of Colle Val d’Elsa (Italy), the protagonist is exactly this «becoming».

The Glove is here replaced by a Ruin, almost with the intent of alluding to the Ruin of Sculpture. A column is buried for half in the ground, allowing it to also act as a pedestal. This condition empathises the most important part of the installation, which is posed on top: an inscription. In Kabakov’s work the pedestal incorporates its ostension declaring simultaneously the end of the pedestal itself. In fact, instead of suggesting a person or event to commemorate, it carries an inscription, a memento mori of itself and of what, of the column-pedestal, we can’t see anymore: «with my height I supported the temple/time has been cruel and nothing is left but half of me/ the years will race away and I will be completely buried by earth/ and you, walking on top of me, won’t even notice me»[20].

The inscription is about the column’s future end, which will take place but we can’t see yet. While reading such words the viewer realizes that he is reading something on the top of a column, which’s usually. This allows us to immediately experience the time that has passed, already burring half of the column.

The peculiarity of this sculpture is given by the fact that it appears to belong to two periods very distant in time. Because of its shape and material, the column appears to be a ruin from the classical era, like one of those semi-columns that we can see at an archaeological site. At the same time, because of the style of the text, the sculpture seems originally from the romantic era. The poem could easily be a composition written by some Russian or German poet during his tour of the Italian ruins. However the site of the installation could’ve never been one of a Roman or Greek temple, making the authenticity of what the text says un-plausible.

The result is that the column doesn’t belong to any period; it has a double temporal facies but it acts in an anachronistic way in either period. This, which would be perceived as a falsification, can be seen as a possibility of time to contain more times.

It’s down George Didi-Huberman through the work of Aby Warburg, Walter Benjamin and Carl Einstein[21] to reconsider and reverse the ana-chronistic paradigm. Time isn’t then identified without wastes with history: it’s a plural time, an assembling of different tempora-lities, time lags and heterogeneous rhythms.

In order to sustain this anachronism the columns lacks a clear recognizable paternity. It become clear this way that the Kabakovs work is anchored in space but fluctuates in time. The centre, the present, is given by the viewer who reads the text, allowing him to move forward in time until the end of the column’s life and jump back, with his imagination, to when it was totally out of the ground.

So the perception of time and its relation with History is realized in a conscience of the instant, in the actuality which George Kubler called «the inter-chronic pause when nothing is happening»[22].

The conscience of being in the actual time produces a time lag, an un-timeliness determined by our position, which makes us look ahead and behind in time while perceiving our position as outdated. The work is already a posthumous[23]   [24]  [25]  [26]  [27]  [28]  [29]  [30]one, in which we can see only what remains while glimpsing what will be.

The work is a sarà stato, «it will-been», it’s a future anterior: vestiges of the time to come instead of the past. In the past there is an unrealized and anachronistic potentiality, which will take place somewhere else, which leads out of given forms, given meanings; out of those peculiarities through which it seemed realized. Just like the lost glove, there for us but not for the lady who used to wear it, the monument has been realized with what’s left (or apparently lost), through it’s memory, with it’s double, a part of the whole (the lost glove, the half column).

The present materiality of these works belong both to the future, as they address to it, and to the past, which is were they come from, and the viewer who stages the present tense can relate to it only in a «becoming mode», continuously connecting the «past» and the «future», which become «before» and «after».

This attitude of the posthumous is what determines the Future Anterior of these works and is what allows monuments to survive their descent from the pedestal into the fissures of time.

Anyway, my examples wouldn’t probably be considered as true monuments.

In the first case it seams that the word ‘monument’ has been emptied of meaning and monumentality, while in the second case the aspect of a ruin and the localization of the artwork on the outskirts of the city doesn’t involve the ‘publicness’ of monuments.

Nevertheless, these two examples use an important tool of monuments: pedestals.

And is on this specific deictic device that paradoxically we can imagine a new understanding of the meaning and use of monuments. The examination of a sculpture by Rachel Whiteread will help us along this path.


What Monument? The Empty Pedestal

In 2001 the British artist installed Monument on one of the four plinths in Trafalgar Square, which remained vacant over the years because of a lack of funds. The work, which follows Ecce Homo (1999) of Mark Wallinger and Regardless History (2000) of Bill Woodrow, was part of The Fourth Plinth project promoted by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). It devotes ones attention to reflect on and understand the conceptual obsolescence of the monument as an art form.

A person passing by in the famous square would have looked at an enormous transparent and translucent pedestal, turned upside down and placed on a granite pedestal similar in size and shape. Made out of resin Monument is in fact the copy, or better, the cast of the one supporting it underneath; it’s a pedestal, placed on a pedestal.

Could we then say that Whiteread’s sculpture is the “monument” to the pedestal?

To find a plausible answer we probably need to step back and better understand what a pedestal is and what it represents.

Normally when we are in front of a monument, or in front of a statue on a base, we hardly notice the pedestal. Nevertheless pedestals have always played an important role in experiencing sculptures: these are the architectural elements normally used for the display of an artwork. Their function is to raise the work from the ground in order to call our attention, inviting the viewer to a contemplation the work of the pedestal. In this way the plinth activates two different approaches between the work and the viewer, which are physical and moral all at once: the work becomes easier to view when raised and at the same time, in such a positions, it poses a distance in between the viewer and the work itself. We can’t touch it, it’s out of reach. When raised the artwork is elevated above the legibility of common objects.

For this reason in 1961 Piero Manzoni called his work, in the shape of a pedestal, Magic Base. He understood that the space above it’s very much charged with power, so he ironically was inviting people to stand on it; for this purpose he attached footprints that, when matched by the feet of the person standing on the pedestal, would make the person assume a posture recalling the one of the statue of an hero.

In monuments, pedestals usually tend to be huge and high, often decorated or inscribed with epitaphs, generating a real change in scale. Without moving from our spot in London, a good example of this is provided by a glance at the pedestal underneath admiral Horatio Nelson’s feet in Trafalgar Square: in order to be able to look at the statue posed on top of a column 145 meters high, we need to stay at a certain distance from it, to fully embrace it and avoid a neck ache.

The French understood the pedestal’s great importance by, in the mid 1700, regulating its shape, size, color, material and decoration in Course d’Architecture (1738). The canon set the form and dimension of the plinth that had to stage the statue of a hero, of a king, of a woman or child. But why worry about an element that seems only a functional one? Because the pedestal is a deictic device, it obliges the viewer to look in a certain direction. The pedestal says out loud “look there”! Not only: it also tells us “how” to look and to also take into consideration what we are staring at. This is particularly true when talking about monuments, which celebrate events or people; in the latter case the raised position is also metaphorical; it implies that these are supra homines. What’s on the pedestal has an instant mise en valeur; it’s not a coincidence that the word monument is etymologically related to «remembrance» (lat. monére) from which derives «make people know» (see Italian: monito).

However, in Whiteread’s Mo-nument, more is prompted by the pedestal’s shape. In comparison to the base made of durable and heavy granite, Monument looks like a fragile and light object. The peculiar resin out of which it’s made of makes the artwork permeable to the eye while at the same time the surface, reacting to the change of light during the day, changes its features: at midday the zenith light of a clear day will make it look like a crystal clear block, while during a typically dull London day the surface will look like a grey facade mirroring the square, the other monuments and the city life. Contrary to the transparent meaning of «traditional» monuments, which clearly show commemoration, Monument, regardless of its transparency, never reaches a stabilized view and a clear meaning.

Many times this work has been compared to Socle du Monde (1961), but even if this famous pedestal is turned upside down, it rests on the ground as if to suggest socle is the pedestal of the entire world; of reality. So the fact that there is another plinth underneath Whiteread’s «socle» changes the relation between the statue-sculpture and the pedestal. Monument, in fact, reveals that there is no monument, it «pierces the veil of Maia» and shows that what makes the monument a «monument» is the plinth.

Rachel Whiteread is known for her «procedure of solidification», of giving to the absence a presence in a way that we perceive it as an absence, as in Ghost (1990) or Book Corridors (1997-1998). Although in the case of Monument. In Monument, while displaying the meta-linguistic unveiling of the exhibition device, the artist questions what can be put on a pedestal and how we can relate to such «magical» space.

The meta-linguistic answer of Monument to the empty plinth is the constant celebration of power through a device. In front of Rachel Whiteread’s work we totally understand that the canonic pedestal-work relationship is reversed. Instead of offering something new to put on the pedestal, the artwork mirrors the capacity of its support in showing, showing itself, showing that what’s going on is a show, showing how to reflect on its own show.

On Top of an Empty Pedestal.

In art history we see how the statues conquered the ground of modernity from Balzac of Rodin, stepping down from the pedestal to encounter the viewer directly. Contemporary sculpture is understood as a descent from the pedestal. This is why the first images we encounter in the catalogue are still-images from Eizenstein’s film October.

Ten Days that Shocked the World (1927). In an analogous way, our visual memory is full of images of statues being pulled down and monuments being destroyed, images related to the suppression of a certain political power or regime. In this case statues are literally pulled down from the pedestal causing the estranging situation of having many empty pedestals.

The point is that for Whiteread we are those who know that statues have been pulled down from the pedestals, that ideologies have ended, that we can only reflect on what is left, on what is happening now, reflected on the surface or on what’s going on in the square.

The outputting situation of monuments pulled down leaving an empty pedestal is that the only way to localize the present tense is the position of the viewer, who is constantly in the situation of feeling outdated, feeling as too late, after something, in a perpetual aftermath.

If the sculpture descending the pedestal makes its way into the common objects, the pedestal left empty can be recognized as such, without disappearing under the sculpture on top.

The events of 1989 together with the cultural change which blew after postmodernism brought to a situation where there isn’t the need to fill the space of the pedestal, there isn’t the need to build a new monument, but to understand this highly power-charged area and use it as a place open to changes. More and more often, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, empty pedestals are venue sites devoted to the construction of the civic society, platforms for under-construction democracies


[1]  S. Craddock, J.D. Magnin, B. Micheli, G. Wajcman, L’anti-monument. Les Mots de Paris. Jochen Gerz, Acted Sud, Arles 2002.

[2]  S. Bignami, Counter-monuments: memoria e rappresentazione tra Austria e Germania, in Rappresentare la Shoah, “Quaderni di Acme”, 75, ed. A. Costazza, Cisalpino, Milano 2005, pp. 473-481.

[3]  L. Hoptman, UNMONUMENTAL. Going to Pieces in the 21st Century, in Unmonumental. The Object in 21st Century New Museum of Contemporary Art, ed. R. Flood, Phaidon Press, London, New York 2007, p. 138.

[4]  Temporal mode is a word by Koselleck. Cfr. R. Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, Columbia University Press, New York 2004.

[5]  G. Ferroni, Dopo la Fine. Sulla condizione postuma della letteratura (Einaudi, Torino 1986). Cf. also G. Ferroni, Dopo la Fine. Una letteratura possibile, Einaudi, Torino 2010.

[6]  The most quoted author regarding the stillness generated after World War II in the art is Theodor W. Adorno «to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric» in Prisms (1949) trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber, (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1967). It’s not a coincidence that monuments of the Holocaust are generally characterized by emptiness, silence and absence, almost as if pronouncing the word art has become impossible.

[7]  R. Smithson, Entropy and the New Monuments, in Robert Smithson. The collected writings, ed. Flam Jack, University of California, Berkeley 1966 [1st ed. in Artforum, June 1966].

[8]  D. Gamboni, The Destruction of art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn. 1977; Reaktion Books, London 1997.

[9]  This is a term from Feuerbach. Cf. G. Agamben, Signatura rerum, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2008, p. 8.

[10]  A kolossòs was a stone statue roughly carved posed in the tomb instead of the dead body; Vernant explain this could happen when the body couldn’t be burried, not found, or because the man died far away from home. Cf. J.-P. Vernant, Mito e pensiero presso i Greci, [1965], Einaudi, Torino 1978, p. 348.

[11]  Cf. J.-L. Nancy, Being Singular Plural, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2000.

[12]  Cf. A. Causey, Sculpture since 1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 1998, pp. 178-180.

[13]  R. Serra, Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself (1967-1968), in G. Muller, The New Avant­Garde: Issues for the Art of the Seventies, Praeger, New York 1972.

[14]  Interview with Benjamin Buchloh, in ed. B. Buchloh, A. Gingeras and C. Basualdo, Thomas Hischhorn, Phaidon, London-NewYork 2004.

[15]  R. Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, Columbia University Press, New York 2004, p. Xvii.

[16]  Cf. I. Kabakov, Public Projets or the Spirit of a Place, ed. A. Vettese, Charta, Milano 2001.

[17]  W. Benjamin, Parigi Capitale del XIX secolo, G. Agamben ed., Einaudi, Torino 1983: «la storia si scrive a partire dai rifiuti stessi della storia» (history is written starting form history’s very own refusals - author translation).

[18]  «L’attuale non è ciò che noi siamo, ma piuttosto ciò che diveniamo, ciò che stiamo diventando, l’Altro, il nostro divenir-altro. Il presente, al contrario, è ciò che siamo e proprio per questo, ciò che già cessiamo di essere». G. Deleuze, F. Guattari, Che cos’è la filosofia?, [1991] ed. A. De Lorenzis, Einaudi, Torino 1996.

[19]  «Ho sostenuto il tempio con la mia altezza/il tempo è stato crudele e non resta di me che metà/gli anni fuggiranno via e sarò totalmente coperta dalla terra/ e tu, camminandomi sopra, non ti accorgerai neppure di me».

[20]  G. Didi-Huberman, Devant le temps: Histoire de l’art et anachronisme des images, Editions de Minuit, Paris 2000.

[21]  «George Kubler, like Ad Reinhardt, seems concerned with ‘weak signals’ from ‘the void’. Beginnings and endings are projected into the present as hazy planes of ‘actuality’. In The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, Kubler says, ‘Actuality is [...] the inter-chronic pause when nothing is happening. It is the void between events’. [...] The future criss-crosses the past in an unobtainable present. Time vanishes into a perpetual sameness». R. Smithson, Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space, in Arts Magazine, November 1966, p. 28.


[22]  Posthumous is what Giulio Ferroni described as relation with death, with ‘the after’, that each artwork which aspires to become a monument, stipulates” so is different from ‘afterwardness’ (Laplance); ‘Posthistorical’ (Fukuyama); ‘Deferred’ (Freud) and others.

[23]  The fourth plinth, realized in 1841 had to host the statue of William IV (1765-1873), but he didn’t leave enough money to realize it.

[24]  Cf. S. Malvern, The Fourth Plinth of the Vicissitudes of Public Sculpture, in A. Gerstein, ed., Display and Displacement. Sculpture and the Pedestal from Renaissance to Post-Modern, Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum, Paul Holberton Pub., London 2007, pp. 130-150.

[25]  The material in which the artwork is made created a great attention from the Media because a resin, Crystal Clear 207, was specially invented for Monument. Cf. C. Townsend, Lesson from what’s poor, in The Art of Rachel Whiteread, Thames & Hudson, London 2004.

[26] Cf. J. Thompson, Piero Manzoni: Out of Time and Place, in G. Celant, Piero Manzoni, Charta, Milano 1998, pp. 39-49.

[27]  Cf. A.-C. d’Aviler, Cours d’Architecture qui comprend les ordres de Vignole, Paris 1750, pl. 94.

[28]  «Monumento» = lat. monumèntum = monimèntum (gr. mne-ma, mnomeion) from mònere, (see monito in italian) and -mentum.

[29]  R. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture, The MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 1977.

[30]  The increasing use of the suffix ‘post’ when trying to determine a characteristic of nowadays is an immediate detector of this situation.

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