Conversation about Monument for Chelsea Manning with Professor Rosalyn Deutsche, New York, June 7, 2018

by John Reardon

doi: 10.18278/aia.3.3.4.1.9

Monument for Chelsea Manning is one of a number of ongoing projects by John Reardon. Reardon is Artist in Residence in the Politics Department at Goldsmiths, London. Johnreardon.info


This conversation took place as part of the project Monument for Chelsea Manning, an ongoing attempt to permanently site a traditional bronze head and shoulders in the small market town of Haverfordwest, Wales. I wanted to have this conversation with Professor Deutsche for myriad reasons not least because she has been so instrumental in disabusing us of the idea that there is a pre-given or proper meaning of public space. And how we need to be mindful that “social space is produced and structured by conflicts” (1996:xxiv).

I embarked on Monument for Chelsea Manning after discovering Chelsea’s link to Haverfordwest. Her mother Susan was born in Haverfordwest and it’s where she met Chelsea’s father Brian who was at the time stationed at nearby RAF Brawdy as part of the U.S. Navy. Susan and Brian left for the United States in 1979 and had Chelsea in 1987. In 2001, Susan returned to Haverfordwest with Chelsea who attended the towns Tasker Milward secondary school for several years before returning to the United States and joining the army.

The project attempts to bring Monument for Chelsea Manning together with this small Welsh market town and as part of this process attempt to frame and work with the controversy this produces as “incommensurable”—in the manner Kent. A. Ono and John M. Sloop describe in their essay Critical Rhetorics of Controversy—as outlaw discourse or critique. “In incommensurable controversies, the legitimacy of the logics and institutions employed are at base being undermined… An outlaw critique looks for logics that could potentially undermine dominant logics rather than for controversies that illustrate how well it [the system] works…” (1999:10).

Figure 1. Model of Monument for Chelsea Manning and bronze cast before cleaning 2018/19.

 

Figure 2. Haverfordwest, Wales.

In 2016, I approached Pembrokeshire County Council with the project and was told—off the record—that it would jeopardise inward investment to the town and divide the community. In short, I would never be granted planning permission for this. I also approached the churches in the town as they have a separate planning body and the power—within reason—to grant planning permission. Most of the churches—of which there are many—didn’t want to engage with me about the project and the one church that did agree explained they only allowed monuments to be erected on church property to “extraordinary people.” Despite arguing how Chelsea fitted this criterion; how she is courageous and how she chose her own destiny, the church argued she wasn’t extraordinary in church-terms. In other words, as someone who gave her life to the church. It was then I began canvassing support for the project from Assembly Members in the Welsh Assembly, Cardiff and Welsh MPs in the House of Parliament, London. I received a mixed response in terms of support for the project, although I was invited to show and talk about it in the Welsh Assembly and it was also raised in a live debate on First Ministers questions.

And why I’m relating all of this is because I also want to think about where this project starts and stops? There is a bronze head and shoulders, a temporary site for this, a limited-edition publication to accompany it and also a possible walking tour. In other words, there’s a kind of “unsettled” space or space of potential, opening up around the work which I’m interested in sustaining for as long as possible.

I began the project by contacting Chelsea’s family in Haverfordwest as well as her campaign team in the United States and the UK when Chelsea was still serving her sentence in Leavenworth Penitentiary. From there, I got in touch with Philadelphia-based portrait artist Alicia Neal who was commissioned by Chelsea’s campaign team to make a portrait of her for a campaign poster. At the time Chelsea wanted a new image of herself commissioned for this and Alicia Neal was chosen from a number of shortlisted portrait artists. Alicia worked from a small self-portrait of Chelsea and through written correspondence with her in Leavenworth.

Figure 3. How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea herself, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, April 2014.

Using Alicia’s illustration of Chelsea, I began working with a designer to digitally model this before beginning to model it in clay. What I liked about Alicia’s illustration and why I initially chose to work from it was that I thought it spoke as much to the realm of the imagination as to the actual real-world campaign to release Chelsea in the sense of who Chelsea imagined she could be, who we were imagining Chelsea to be, what public officials in Haverfordwest were imagining a public sculpture to Chelsea in Haverfordwest could be and so on.

The problem I discovered with working from Alicia’s illustration was that it didn’t translate anatomically into a three-dimensional portrait and to continue with this would require my having to carefully frame or contextualise the work with a lengthy explanation—of how it evolved—as it entered the public sphere. Once I realised this, I began again on another three-dimensional portrait and by inviting artist Suzie Zamit from The Society of Portrait Sculptors to help me work out the anatomical detail of this using images of Chelsea—mostly taken from an interview she gave shortly after she was released from Leavenworth Penitentiary. Suzie was of enormous help and support. This change in direction consolidated my approach to the project, and to making a bronze head and shoulders through working with the kind of traditional, formal language used in already existing monuments in the Pembrokeshire area. I wanted Monument for Chelsea Manning to speak this language, to speak to these existing monuments. In thinking through this process, I was reminded of the essay by James E. Young The German Counter-Monument in which Young explores Germany’s Denkmal-Arbeit around the countermonumental, or counter-memorial. I decided I wanted to try and avoid Monument for Chelsea Manning being framed as counter-monumental or counter-memorial.

Figure 4. Monument to Henry VII, or Henry Tudor—born at Pembroke Castle in 1457.
Figure 5. Monument to Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Neyland, Pembrokeshire (replica of stolen memorial. Unveiled April 2013).

RD She looks like Renée Jeanne Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc.[1]

Young uses the term “counter-monument” to name works of memory—mnemonic representationsthat don’t take the form of the traditional monument in that they don’t aspire to permanence, and solidity. But we can add to that the idea of countering monumental memory by engaging in a dialogue with existing monuments. Take Krzysztof Wodiczko’s projections as an example; they’re counter-monuments in Young’s sense but also in the sense that they “talk with” traditional statues and architectural structures.

It’s interesting that your Monument for Chelsea Manning is a bronze bust because traditionally bronze, marble, or stone monuments embody what Nietzsche calls “monumental history.” In The Use and Abuse of History for Life (2010[1874]), Nietzsche challenges nineteenth-century Germans’ excessive esteem for history, identifying three different kinds of history.[2] Monumental history is what Walter Benjamin later calls the history of the victors or the tradition of the oppressor. It’s the history of “great” men and events, which are supposedly eternal and form a chaina “high road”for civilisation. What, then, does it mean to use traditional monumental form for Chelsea Manning who doesn’t embody monumental history but something closer to what Nietzsche calls critical history or Benjamin’s history of the oppressed (1940),[3] of, that is, the struggle against oppression? Lately, I’ve been asking the same question about other traditional monuments to non-monumental topics, such as Bryan Stevenson’s lynching memorial that just opened in Alabama.[4] In the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, there’s a permanent abstract memorial with the names of individuals who were lynched. It doesn’t take the form of a counter-monument in James Young’s sense because it’s permanent (although it does have a participatory dimension) but it does reject the notion of history associated with traditional monuments.

JR I’m also wondering about questions of duration and context in terms of what constitutes a traditional monument over and above the material it’s made from and the form it takes and how much this is connected to context and physical place in terms of where you often find these monuments, like outside a town hall, courthouse, public building and so on?

RD I teach a course called Art of Witness, which is about mnemonic representations of historical, politically motivated traumas. Usually we examine the non-conventional, anti-monumental, or counter-monumental but I also have to deal with the question of oppressed groups that deserve memorials, whether in traditional monumental form or not. Do you think your Monument for Chelsea Manning will function as a kind of projection onto the existing monuments in the area around it, interfering with the meanings they project? Will it change those monuments, shake them in some way, make them less solid? I think the Manning monument calls into question the assumptions underlying traditional monuments, especially assumptions about greatness and extraordinariness. Individuals memorialised by traditional monuments are represented as heroes and indeed you heroicise Manning. But, in an essay he wrote about the barbarism of World War I, Freud distinguishes between two kinds of heroism. He says that there’s a rational basis for heroism: that certain general goods are more important than an individual life. But more frequent is an irrational, impulsive heroism, which writes Freud, represents regression to an infantile state of believing that “nothing can happen to me”a fantasy of invulnerability characteristic of primary narcissism (Freud 1957). When people invoke Freud’s analysis, they often forget his idea about rational heroism, which is not based on a masculinist drive for mastery and is perhaps applicable to Chelsea Manning.

JR I think that’s where I was instinctively drawn to, to the traditional monumental form. Among other things I was reminded of how Young talks about Monument Against Fascism in Harburg, Hamburg by Jochen Gerz and Ester Shalev-Gerz and about how this kind of reflexive gaze on history that so often positions and identifies a counter-monument could be “buried” or embedded in the traditional form of Monument for Chelsea Manning.[5]

I was also wondering if we can only ever “mark” rather than “memorialise” an event? Memorialise suggests something more concrete, more permanent. Something almost certain to fail? Is there a built-in obsolescence in monuments that needs to be acknowledged and worked with rather than treated as a failure of monuments to memorialise? Might this obsolescence reveal the monument to be inadequate, inappropriate, and/or absurd. To be flawed. And can we think of this as other than a failure to memorialise?

I’m thinking about these things as I’ve been feeling my way into the project. At some point after Pembrokeshire Council said no, I’ll never get planning permission for the project. I began looking a bit more into where Chelsea’s mother Susan’s family grew up in Haverfordwest. I think Susan’s parents came over from Ireland in the 1950s and settled in a small housing estate in Merlin’s Bridge on the edge of town. The house still exists so I went to visit whoever lives there now and I met this extraordinary woman. I knocked on her door on a rainy Friday night and introduced myself by telling her I might want to put a monument in her little front garden, and can we talk. She invited me in…

RD There is a God…

JR Since then I’ve become increasingly interested in this as a possible site for the work and how it might look displaced, contained, corralled, or quarantined in her front garden and how I might direct people towards this, direct people to the edge of town, and into this little estate. And then, I also met with Conway Hall Ethical Society in London about installing the work on temporary loanuntil a more permanent site can be foundin their library among the existing busts, all of whom are men. . .

Figure 6a. The library, Conway Hall Ethical Society, Red Lion Square, London.
Figure 6b. The library, Conway Hall Ethical Society, Red Lion Square, London.

RD And then the work would initiate a dialogue. This might be a really interesting context. It makes me think of current debates in the United States about monuments to the Confederacytraditional monuments to great men, military figures, war heroesand in the midst of this debate, traditional monumental forms are being used for non-traditional subjects, such as slavery and lynching, as I mentioned earlier. This situation parallels that of the Chelsea Manning statue among the great men in the Library and the statues from Pembrokeshire.

JR And speaking of the struggle in Charlottesville, can I read you the very end of something James Young writes about Germany’s Denkmal Arbeit and then show you an image as I thought there may be a correspondence between one and the other. Young writes “the best German memorial to the Fascist era and its victims may not be a single memorial at all but simply the never to be resolved debate over which kind of memory to preserve, how to do it, in whose name, and to what end…

RD That’s the democratic public sphere…

JR “…instead of a fixed figure from memory, the debate itself, perpetually unresolved amid ever-changing conditions might be enshrined.” (Young 1992:270).

Figure 7. Stonewall Jackson statue, Emancipation Park, Charlottesville.

JR This is an image of a covered Stonewall Jackson statue in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. I was thinking how it is such a powerful monument in this form. And I was wondering if this could be thought about in relation to Young’s “never to be resolved debate.”

RD The picture is amazing, but what worries me about Young’s statement is that in glorifying debate it avoids the necessity of taking positions. I mean, I support taking down Confederate monuments and I support taking down the Confederate flag. I don’t claim my position has a God-given foundation, I’m too much of a poststructuralist for that, but for me poststructuralism, is about taking positions in the absence of extra-social foundations for doing so. There’s value in what Young says insofar as it counters the idea that there can be non-conflictual monuments and insofar as it makes clear that the public sphere is not just a material space but, rather, what Hannah Arendt describes as the space between people wherever they appear, even if they’re on different ends of the world. But Young’s statement needs to be articulated with the necessity of taking positions?

JR I think what I saw in this was also some connection to Ono and Sloop’s outlaw discourse or critique, and to the possibility for ongoing actual and symbolic violence that could be done to these monuments, something that could be sustained over time. It put me in mind of a long past event in Ireland involving a statue of Queen Victoria and University College Cork, (formerly known as Queens College Cork). In 1849, a one-tonne statue of Queen Victoria by sculptor Edward Ambrose was installed on the topmost eastern gable of the university to coincide with the then 30-year-old Queen’s visit to the city. Because of an outbreak of cholera Queen Victoria’s retinue didn’t stop in Cork or visit the university but were able to see the statue being hoisted into position as they drove out of the city. The statue was removed in 1934, during a strong nationalist period of Irish history. On its removal, the college didn’t destroy the statue but instead put it under lock and key in a room in the east wing of the college. This was viewed from time to time by invited guests as if viewing “a scandal” according to John A. Murphy, Emeritus Professor of history at University College Cork. However, because the statue had, over time, a damaging effect on the floorboards it was decided to bury it. This happened in a mock-ceremony during which it was lowered into a straw-lined grave in University College Cork’s Presidents garden. The statue remained there until late 1994 when it was disinterred in the middle of the night and in great secrecy. It was placed in a glass vitrine among the artefacts of the university and to be part of a future exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the college.

Figure 8a. Queen Victoria and her retinue in Cork (Statue of Queen Victoria on gable end of building – left hand side of image). Courtesy of UCC Archives.
Figure 8b. Queen Victoria statue disinterred, 1994, University College Cork. Courtesy of UCC Archives.
Figure 8c. Queen Victoria statue disinterred, 1994, University College Cork. Courtesy of UCC Archives.
Figure 9. Statue of Queen Victoria, as exhibited at the U.C.C. 150th Anniversary Exhibition, 1995, University College Cork.

 

RD That’s great. It’s like Michael Asher’s intervention at the Chicago Art Institute, in which Asher moved Houdon’s statue of George Washington, which was outside the museum, to the 18th-century gallery inside. The value of that act lay not just in facilitating the ability to see the sculptural object in two different spatial contexts and that it signifies differently in each one, but in underscoring that such objects and their meanings move through history. Pictures of George Washington being hoisted up or going into storage are powerful interventions in the pretensions of the monument to possess stable significance. Returning to the question of positions, I think you’re taking a position in the very act of making Monument for Chelsea Manning. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re saying she’s a truly extraordinary individual.

JR Yes, I am but I’m also mindful about what I’m doing here and if I’m claiming to speak on behalf of anyone and how I work with this. I’m very interested in how Philip Nobile describes the story of LGTBQ historiography which he says “cannot be told but as one of struggle against discipline, a term that designates not only an academic field but the rhetorical efforts, often cloaked as ‘objective’ praxis and judgement, that preserve hegemonic constructions of sanctioned domains of inquiry into the past” (Morris 2004:102).

RD This is such a can of worms.

JR I had this brief but interesting correspondence about the project with Felix from the organisation Action for Trans Health in London. Felix wrote about the issue of “public recognition and visibility of historically important LGBT (especially trans) figures being notably absent in the UK. It’s important to recognise that those who are visible (Manning being one, Turing being another) are recognised primarily for their non-LGBT related achievements, which still sidelines the history of our struggles. I’m not as up on queer history as I’d like to be, but people like Michael Dillon, Roberta Cowell, and Mark Ashton spring to mind.”

RD Your story brings up the question of who can speak for whom, of identity and identity politics, which is so timely and fraught at the moment. In some cases, there’s a zeal for destruction that has an almost erotic nature. I’m not referring to destroying Robert E. Lee monuments; there’s a rational reason for that. But the failure to be self-reflexive about calls for destructionabout what drives such calls­is very scary to me. As are certain accusations of cultural appropriation. Can white authors write about black characters? Straight people about gays? And vice versa? Should Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till in his coffin be destroyed? It’s a sensitive issue but I do think it’s important that we be able to speak across oppressions. Identity is so complex. Stuart Hall called it “an unfinished conversation.” Both termsunfinished and conversationmilitate against certainty and fixity.

Our relation to otherness hinges on what comes after the word “speaking” or “writing.” Do we speak about, speak for, speak to? The Filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha suggests “speaking nearby,” which is wonderful in the way it works against power in representation. It reminds me of the relationship between psychoanalyst and analysand. It might offer a way to think about representing Chelsea. I don’t believe it’s helpful to stop conversations by saying one can’t speak about something or someone. There may be specific occasions where that’s appropriate and of course we need to think about how we speak.

JR But surely, we need to ask—going back to your reference to the Emmett Till painting—why Dana Schutz chose to do this? Why she, as a white artist created this death spectacle, and attempted to appropriate trauma that is not hers to appropriate? Why she chose to cause so much pain and hurt because she must have known in advance that this is what would happen? White people can’t pretend to be innocent or naïve; to think “Oh, well I’m an artist and I’m just doing this and why is everyone so angry with me, why is everyone being so unreasonable?” Why did Dana Schutz choose to make this painting? Did it do what she wanted it to do as she cannot have been under any illusion what she was doing? And was it worth it for her?

RD Yes, of course one must be aware of what it means to represent others. But to simply say a white person can’t do this or a straight person can’t do that by virtue of their being white or straight or vice-versa seems regressive, when there’s such a longstanding, high-level discourse about identity. When we’ve had Stuart Hall. But, as you say, one can’t be naïve and profess innocence. No.

JR I’ve been reading Karen Barad’s work, Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007).[6] She writes about boundary-making practices and about the connectedness between things. Offering an account of the world “as a whole rather than as composed of separate natural and social realms. … In an agential realist account,” according to Barad, “the world is made of entanglements of ‘social’ and ‘natural’ agencies, where the distinction between the two emerges out of specific intra-actions. Intra-activity is an inexhaustible dynamism that configures and reconfigures relations of space–time–matter.”[7]

I was particularly interested in how Barad begins to illustrate this through the example of a laboratory space and setting up an experiment and how she describes the “apparatuses” involved as “not passive observing instruments” but are “productive of (and part of) phenomena […] Apparatuses are themselves material-discursive phenomena, materialising in intra-action with other material-discursive apparatuses” (ibid:146). Barad asks is the “outside boundary of the apparatus coincident with the visual terminus of the instrumentation? What if an infrared interface (i.e. a wireless connection) exists between the measuring instrument and a computer that collects the data? Does the apparatus include the computer? Is the printer attached to the computer part of the apparatus? Is the paper that is fed into the printer? Is the person who feeds in the paper?” (ibid.:142–143).

I’m really interested in this series of interconnections Barad makes and I was very much thinking here about Monument for Chelsea Manning and again where the work starts and stops and how something can be sustained and worked with as this is process-led work and happens over time and has this degree of connectedness to other things.

RD Yes, that’s very important.

JR So there are different processes and iterations of the work within the same project and I try and follow and work with these processes and to pay attention to what is going on and to try to be cognisant of questions of context, identity, material, and who’s coming in and out of the work and where the work is being directed towards and prompted by if that makes sense?

RD Barad’s work, as you describe it, reminds me of Mouffe and Laclau’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Radical Democratic Politics of 1984. The authors distinguish between Lyotard’s idea that there are separate, distinct language games and their own idea that no language game, discourse, or identity is a closed entity but is, rather, always relational. Both ideas challenge foundationalist grand narratives but Mouffe and Laclau question the notion that any element is a complete totality.

Your account of Barad also makes me think of the film Hiroshima mon amour, with its encounter between two traumas. The last lines are something like “Hiroshima. That is your name. Yes, that is my name. And yours is Nevers. Nevers, in France.” I’ve always read this ending as a bridge between collective traumas, a transcendence of the isolation of each. Maybe it’s an example of ‘speaking nearby’ rather than closing the borders of identities.

JR And could you extend that for a moment to the image of the tarpaulin-covered Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson. . . I’ve been looking at monuments in London of people connected to the slave trade for example, people like Sir John Moore, Sir Robert Clayton, Sir Hans Sloane, Sir John Cass, William Beckford and Thomas Guy. I’ve been thinking about some kind of violent displacement of public monuments and I was wondering if there is a case not just for the permanent removal of certain public monuments but in some cases for their “reduction” to feats of engineering; for example, taking them off their pedestals, upending them and replacing them with the support of a metal armature put in place to hold what is now a precariously balanced statue.

RD Rather than destroying them?

JR …I mean literally standing them on their heads and the violence of this action being also visible through the metal armature that is there to hold the statue in place and that enters the body of the statue at whatever points it needs to ensure it stands up and is securely fixed in place. Is there a case for certain monuments continuing to exist but doing violence to them and the violence is “visible” in their actual physical form.

RD Of course that would be a kind of destructionwhat Wodiczko calls a “symbol-attack.” We don’t have to do away with monuments physically, as the Paris Commune did with the Vendôme Column. Literal destruction can even be seen as a tribute to a monument’s power—the way repression makes something stronger. But we can destroy monuments by playing with them, as Charlie Chaplin does with the Peace and Prosperity civic statue at the beginning of City Lights. He destroys the statue’s monumentality without tearing it down. So do Wodiczko’s projections, and your Monument for Chelsea Manning, no?

JR I started working on another and maybe parallel project in Berlin when I moved there in April 2018. It came from trying to answer the question how do I arrive in Berlin as an artist? How do I touch it lightly? What kind of footprint do I make on the city? How do I speak to it? How do I give rather than take from it and who or what needs to be acknowledged in this process? I started a project called Aftercare and what I’ve been doing is looking for “overlooked”—often abstract—pieces of public sculpture around Berlin that have fallen into a state of disrepair. I’ve started to look after and maintain them, I trim the grass, repaint the signage, and so on. I also appropriate these spaces, these overlooked pieces of public sculpture to the project Aftercare by marking each space with a sign carrying a brief description of the project.

Figure 10. Aftercare.

RD I like the idea of Aftercare. It’s close to Jewish burial tradition, in which the mourner, stays at the grave until it’s fully covered with soil. That’s the last act of caretaking, making sure nothing dangerous gets in there. Care is also connected to the trope of prosopopoeia, the figure of speech in which one gives a voice to an inanimate object or an absent or dead person, something that can’t or doesn’t speak. J. Hillis Miller’s example is Plato’s Dialogues, which are narrated by Socrates. Socrates was silenced by power and Plato brings him to life. Ethical aftercare.

JR I’m interested in the idea of care…in his essay The Appearance of Public Memory, Charles E. Scott writes: “To speak of culture and memory is to speak of care. Care is a disturbing word. In its history of meaning, it suggests loss and grief—it derives from the Old High German word kara which means ‘lament.’ Blended into its meaning are experiences of uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility. ‘Care’ contains a suggestion of anxiety and watchful attention. To have a care is to look out for danger and adversity. To be careful is to be solicitous of things that can suffer damage and loss. To feel care is to feel concern and uncertainty […] The word memory has in its history the ancient Greek word mermeros, ‘care for’ something losable. From which the Latin memoria derives. In the many overtones, the word memory suggests mourning, remainder, solicitude, and mentation.” (2004:150).

I’ve been mapping these “abandoned” public sculptures and wondering if some of them might equally speak to an abandoned hope for a different kind of Berlin, and for a different kind of world, now lost with the “vanquishing” of Socialism, the disappearance of the Berlin Wall and the years immediately after its disappearance where people dreamed of a different world, a different kind of city, a different way of organising themselves. As money now pours into Berlin and a consumer-driven economy takes hold of and reshapes the city in its image, I was wondering if some of these overlooked public sculptures might speak to or embody that kind of lost or abandoned hope.

RD Aftercare can be about repair, of something broken. In Jewish mysticism, which I know very little about, there’s a concept about “the breaking of the vessels.” It’s a creation parable. God created physical matter and infused himself into it, but because matter is finite and can’t contain God, the vessels shattered and evil was released. It’s the job of human beings to repair the world. The parable is considerably more complicated and I wish I could describe it more rigorously. In any case, the word Tikkun, which is the title of a Jewish liberal publication, refers to the ethical task of repairing the world.

JR That’s really beautiful.

RD I know. It’s as fascinating as another Jewish mystical concept, the Tzadikim Nistarim, that in every generation there are 36 righteous or just men, who save the world.  They’re hidden, no one knows they’re the righteous men, they don’t even know it. I don’t know why 36, it must have mystical significance, but we need them now!

JR Are there women among them?

RD Not traditionally, but we can add them.

JR Yes, I would like to add them.

RD We’ll just think 36 righteous women.

JR That’s fabulous.

RD Yeah, I love it.

JR This is a kind of rambling conversation but I suppose what I’m seeing is that these projects are overlapping and speaking one to the other in different ways.

Is there any caution you would add, as regards taking a position? I think I try and avoid taking an explicit position as I think the work can tip into being didactic to the point where it is rendered almost mute. I’m interested in how to hold something open, how to keep things unsettled…

RD I don’t like didacticism in art either, but to make a monument to Chelsea Manning is to take a position, as I’ve already suggested. Taking a position and being didactic aren’t the same. What I wanted to caution against was mistaking the idea that there are no absolute foundations of meaning for sitting on the fence, a common error. What’s important is taking a position in a non-authoritarian way, by which I mean not claiming to speak in the name of a source of meaning outside the social world, whether that source is God, Supreme Reasons, or Nature. So when I talked about taking a position I meant that you’re not sitting on the fence about Chelsea Manning.

JR No I’m not sitting on the fence.

RD One thing you might consider, and it may just be as part of your thought process, is your own investment in the project, which is not only about Chelsea Manning but about your search for Chelsea Manning. I always think it’s good to ask, “what is my desire here?” This is the subjective component of a work that can also provoke self-questioning in viewers.

I just wrote an essay about Mary Kelly’s lint works. The first one, Mea Culpa, includes various women’s testimonies to historical traumas they’ve lived through. Have you seen it?

JR No I haven’t.

RD Kelly describes the process of wanting to make a work that deals with the other side of the masculine warrior, whom she had explored in her previous work, Gloria Patri. In other words, she wanted to explore the victims of the atrocities that the masculinist, militarist subject inflicts. The result was Mea Culpa. While thinking about how to do this, she struggled with a lot of the questions you’re asking, and others, too, like how to make images of suffering that don’t betray the victims, questions raised by Theodor Adorno in relation to art and the Holocaust. At one point, Kelly saw a photo taken in Sarajevo that showed a body lying under a shroud. Subsequently, Kelly had herself photographed lying under a voluminous sheet, as a dead body. When she looked at the photographs she noticed how her body was displaced onto the folds of the sheets. That led her to the idea of using clothes lint, which is also a trace of the body, but it also helped her establish an affective relationship with the trauma victims she cites in the work. There she was at home in California listening to a television report on torture, bombings, and killings. They were both faraway and immediate. How to establish a relationship with the people undergoing them? How to encourage viewers of an artwork to establish such relationships. Maybe instead of worrying about speaking for others, you might think about your relationship to Chelsea Manning.

JR I’ve often thought about how Chelsea, when she felt called upon to act, how she met or embraced that moment.

RD What moment?

JR Where she didn’t flinch in putting the injustice of what she felt was going on in the world before the world.

RD That speaks to Freud’s rational rather than narcissistic basis of heroism. And that’s something you admire…

JR Yes.

RD What’s not to admire? She’s one of the 36-righteous men.

JR Or women—who attended school in the small market town of Haverfordwest.

RD From this “ordinary place” and from “ordinary people” there emerged the extraordinariness of someone who embodies the heroic moment. It’s deeply moving.

One suggestion: There’s a book by Kenneth Gross called The Dream of the Moving Statue. The chapter titled “Talking with Statues” is about engaging in a dialogue with existing monuments, which I mentioned earlier. It could also include engaging with a city or a space, which you’re doing. I’ve used it to help me think through counter-monuments as engaging with the visual things of the built environment. It seems very important that your project is an ensemble of things.

JR And when you say things…

RD I mean the bronze cast, the walking tour, publication, all the parts that constitute the work. The bronze cast is great for memorialising Chelsea Manning, but you want to do more than that. Your passion exceeds that act, and the other elements of your work will put the bust into play with some broader purposes.

JR I think that’s what I’m interested in—I’m interested in the head and shoulders being as much a catalyst for other things to happen but moreover, I’m interested in how to keep something going, not allow things to settle…

 

Notes

[1] 1928 French silent film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc directed by Carl Dreyer and starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan.

[2] “…. In three respects history belongs to the living person: it belongs to him as an active and striving person; it belongs to him as a person who preserves and admires; it belongs to him as a suffering person in need of emancipation. This trinity of relationships corresponds to a trinity of methods for history, to the extent that one may make the distinctions, a monumental method, an antiquarian method and a critical method” (2010[1874]:17).

[3] Basic aporia: “The history of the oppressed is a discontinuum.”—“The task of history is to get hold of the tradition of the oppressed.

[4] “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice […] on a six-acre site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol, is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy. And it demands a reckoning with one of the nation’s least recognized atrocities: the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racist terror. At the center is a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of an American county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as ‘unknown.’ The columns meet you first at eye level, like the headstones that lynching victims were rarely given. But as you walk, the floor steadily descends; by the end, the columns are all dangling above, leaving you in the position of the callous spectators in old photographs of public lynchings.” <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/25/us/lynching-memorial-alabama.html> (Accessed 25 February 2019).

[5] James Young writes “For young German artists and sculptors like the Gerzes, Norbert Radermacher and Horst Hoheisel, the possibility that memory of events so grave might be reduced to exhibitions of public craftsmanship or cheap pathos remains intolerable. They contemptuously reject the traditional forms and reasons for public memorial art, those spaces that either console viewers or redeem such tragic events, or indulge in a facile kind of Wiedergutmachung or purport to mend the memory of a murdered people. Instead of searing memory into public consciousness, they fear, conventional memorials seal memory off from awareness altogether. For these artists, such an evasion would be the ultimate abuse of art, whose primary function, to their mind, is to jar viewers from complacency and to challenge and denaturalize the viewers’ assumptions. […] Under the illusion that our memorial edifices will always be there to remind us, we take leave of them and return only at our convenience. To the extent that we encourage monuments to do our memory-work for us, we become that much more forgetful. In effect, the initial impulse to memorialize events like the Holocaust may actually spring from an opposite and equal desire to forget them. In response to these seemingly generic liabilities in monuments, conceptual artists Jochen and Esther Gerz have designed what they call a Gegendenkmal—built at the City of Hamburg’s invitation to create a Monument against Fascism, War and Violence-and for Peace and Human Rights” (1992: 271–272, 272–274, 274–278, 279, 294–295).

[6] Karen Barad is Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

[7] https://feministstudies.ucsc.edu/faculty/publications/meeting-the-universe.html (Accessed 21 March 2019).

 

References

Barad, Karen. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Benjamin, Walter. (1940) Excerpts from the Paralipomena and Notes of the Theses on the Concept of History. In Selected Writings: Volume 4 (1938–1940), eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Deutsche, Rosalyn. (1996) Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Freud, Sigmund (1957). Thoughts for the Times on War and Death. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Freud vol. 14, ed. and trans. by James Strachey, 275–300. London: Hogarth Press.

Morris III, Charles E. (2004) My Old Kentucky Homo: Lincoln and the Politics of Queer Public Memory. In Framing Public Memory, ed. Kendall R. Phillips, 93–120. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press,

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (2010[1874]). On the Use and Abuse of History for Life. EZreads Publications, LLC.

Ono, Kent A. and John M. Sloop. (1999). Critical Rhetorics of Controversy. Western Journal of Communication 63 (4): 526–538.

Scott, Charles E. (2007) The Appearance of Public Memory. In Framing Public Memory, ed. Kendall R. Phillips. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.

Young, James E. (1992) The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today. Critical Inquiry 18 (2): 267–296.