This unit is designed to bridge academic research and artistic production for upper level High School Students who are enrolled in a two hour Visual Arts Block at the Co-operative Arts and Humanities High School, and assumes that students will both have some art making experience under their belt as well as a motivated interest in the subject matter. The focus of this unit is to examine how artists and architects have through their work participated in the cultural process of preserving memory. Students will study how monuments and memorials function to communicate a given story and how the artist’s creativity and innovation critically determine the form in which the communication will take place. This course is structured to combine a brief historical survey of significant monuments, memorials and works of art that function to preserve memory, with an analysis of the public memorials in New Haven including ‘temporal markers’ such as shrines left on the roadside after a fatal a car accident or street graffiti which name the victim of violence with the tag RIP (rest in peace).
On April 29, 1993 Terrell McFarlin-James known as LI died in a motorcycle accident on Dixwell Avenue. Shortly after his death a graffiti artist painted the walls of a building near the location of LI’s death in his remembrance. This course will try to demonstrate how graffiti tag writing is motivated by the same human need to preserve memory that inspired the Roman elite who commissioned sculptors to design and build sarcophagi, and how this human need can be traced through history and exemplified in contemporary works like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Through a non-linear approach to presenting historical information students will develop a critical vocabulary of the visual elements that are used by artist and architects when they design and build memorials. In turn students will utilize this knowledge in their studio work. In addition to academic work students will be required to complete three studio projects in which they will build objects that function as repositories for memory. To begin the semester the class will participate in assembling panels for The Names Project, National AIDS Quilt. The second project will require students to research and build models for a sight specific public memorial in New Haven concerning a topic of their choice, and for the final project students will fabricate a temporal memorial which will be installed in New Haven. By presenting students with a paralleled study of art history and studio work this course will be based on the premise that one can see further when standing on the shoulders of a giant.
In this course students will learn how to analyze works of art and architecture. A specific form of object analysis will be introduced to students and with its use they will develop a vocabulary used in contemporary art criticism. Through a process of dialogue students will learn how to ‘see’ and express their opinions regarding their observations. Over time they will discover how critical discourse shapes the way history is recorded and remembered. Students will learn a five step process of ‘object analysis’ which begins by describing all the physical details (formal qualities) of an object, this would include its placement, materials, scale, image and text. The second step requires students to make three drawings of the object. These drawings should be to scale including a frontal study, a 3/4 view and a topographical map locating the object in relation to its surroundings. The third step analyzes the type of memory being preserved (content), and the fourth step actively critiques and evaluates the symbolic relationships between the formal design elements and the content of the object. The final step in this process is for students to evaluate how successfully the object communicates its message to others. In their conclusions students should comment on both the placement of the object (context) and the audience.
Most memorials are placed in public spaces with the intention of maintaining an aspect of history. Understanding the dynamics of this form of communication is the goal of ‘object analysis’. As students become familiar with this process they will address fundamental questions regarding why we are motivated to build markers to remind ourselves of the tragedies and Epiphanies that effect our lives. By studying memorials students will learn how identity is formed and gain a better understanding of the relationships between conscious and unconscious thought. Memorials are a way in which communities maintain conscious thought. They are public reminders of who we are and where we have come from. Their intentions are both to honor and to warn. Nations, states, cities, towns, neighborhoods, and families all have memorials which maintain a conscious reminder. For instance a white cross left by the roadside where a tragic accident occurred will remind a community of the deaths as well as the need to drive with caution. Holocaust memorials remind us of the horrors of genocide and war memorials remind us of fallen soldiers who have died for their country. History is known to repeat itself, memorials attempt to interrupt that cycle.
A child who has experienced a trauma will often suppress the memory until he or she is much older and is able to process the experience. Is it possible for a nation or a race to suppress a memory in the same way that a child does? If this is the case, do memorials keep traumatic events conscious and thus prevent the atrocities from repeating? However, even with memorials we need to recognize that the genocide of the Jews during the Holocaust is repeating itself only this time the Muslims are being persecuted and the Croatians are performing the ‘ethnic cleansing.’ What will the memorials for this conflict look like? Do we have to experience the trauma of death to experience history and to value life?
To illustrate how an ‘object analysis’ works three examples will be given each sighted in Washington DC, these will include a day long installation of the AIDS Quilt on Memorial walk, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Memorial. While these works are placed in the same location their message is very different. In the three works we see the difference between a temporal and a permanent marker, between worshipping a heroic figure and grieving the loss of thousands of lives, between a distant history, a recent history, and the present, and between a national symbol and a political gesture. For an analysis to succeed it is important that students develop the dialogue beyond the initial one liner,” I think the AIDS Quilt is a really good idea because people are dying of AIDS and we need to focus on the issue”. To solicit a more in-depth response students should follow each of the five steps, writing their observations and opinions down. Using the ‘stream of conscious’ writing technique students will put emphasis on the development of their ideas as opposed to writing itself. While it is best to visit memorials in person, slides are a useful tool to be used in presenting work that is impractical or impossible to see. The following analysis would be written during and just after the slide presentations of the memorials.