Land & Place
“The land is important to me, but even more important is the idea that it becomes a ‘place’ because someone has been there.”
Marlene Creates, quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, The Lure of the Local, 1997
Place & Time
“Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve”
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1980
Time & Memory
“The traditional function of monuments has been to activate or even sustain a certain narrative of memory which people of influence have deemed worthy or important to maintain. They are mnemonic devices.”
Ken Lum, Monument Lab, in Carolina A. Miranda, “Commentary: Goodbye, guy on a horse. A new wave of monument design is changing how we honor history,” Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2020
Project 3: Monumental Mnemonics
Five weeks, final review Tues Dec 15
Since the tragic and unnecessary police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year (not to mention Breonna Taylor and countless other Black lives going back more than 400 years), over 100 Confederate monuments, memorials, and statues have been removed or scheduled for removal in the United States. More statues commemorating historical villains and tyrants have been felled around the world, in places like Bristol (United Kingdom) and Antwerp (Belgium).
This reappraisal of public monuments is obviously just one small part of a much wider necessary and long overdue reckoning with systemic racism nationally and internationally. But as a particularly visible contemporary flashpoint and with relevance to the graphic designer’s position as a mediator of information and documentation, I hope that the status of public space and memorial is worthy of analysis, as a lens through which we might explore the responsibility we have as a discipline, and as citizens, to document lives and memories, and to counter prevailing histories and challenge power structures.
Artist, teacher, editor, and curator Ken Lum, co-founder of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based independent public art and history studio, describes monuments as “mnemonic devices.” Their traditional function, he elaborates, “has been to activate or even sustain a certain narrative of memory which people of influence have deemed worthy or important to maintain.” As Los Angeles Times journalist and columnist Carolina A. Miranda confirms, “many monuments are built as incarnations of power.”
What kinds of humble, relational, and practical roles might graphic designers play in corrective and revisionist approaches to traditional memorials, the communication of more personal and more inclusive histories and memories, and the cooperation between participants (architects, urban planners, community groups) in public urban (and rural) spaces? This project invites you to engage in research, personal experience, interdisciplinary dialogue, collaborative practice, and time and place, to formulate speculative site-specific physical and/or virtual proposals for new forms of collective narrative and commemoration.
Identify a history or memory (or person, principle, phenomenon—you are entirely free to interpret the theme of this project in your own personal way) to memorialise
Select a specific site, anywhere in the world, to situate your monument. Think of the particular charge that comes from context, site-specificity, in combination with history and memory.
Think of and establish a small team collaborators—real or speculative. They could be within our class, in RISD GD, from other RISD depts and disciplines, or in other fields out in the world.
Establish a proposal for a new kind of monument (memorial, statue, space) dealing with your chosen memory and site. The medium and format is entirely up to you. The final result might be a rendering, a publication, a manifesto, a series of prints, a picture essay, a video, and any other form you deem appropriate for articulating. As we have all seen, the very concept of and inherent power imbalance involved in monuments of any kind is problematic: you are welcome, even encouraged, to challenge the idea of memorialisation with your project response.
Timeline & Process
Week 1: Tues 10 Nov–Tues 17 Nov
Undertake research in general art, design, architecture, urbanism, light, sound, etc., as well as more specific local or international historical, architectural, spatial, cultural groundwork. Establish a history or memory (or person, principle, phenomenon, etc.) to memorialise, and a specific site, anywhere in the world, to situate your monument. Think of collaborators, real or speculative, within RISD GD, within other RISD depts, or in other fields out in the world (or even within our class!). Prepare a short presentation (5–10 mins) of your findings (precedents, case studies, initial ideas) for next week’s class. This can be in whichever form(s) you deem appropriate: notes, pictures, audio, video, books, charts, maps, &c.
Weeks 2 & 3: Tues 17 Nov–Tues 1 Dec
Make use of this next week in terms of further local research, dialogue beyond RISD, location reconnaissance, writing, visualising, and planning. Plan accordingly for the RISD Reading Day gap we have between penultimate class on Tues 1 Dec and the final semester review class on Tues 15 Dec.
Week 4: Tues 8 Dec
RISD Reading Day: No class
Week 5: Tues 15 Dec
Final class project review & semester publication review
Special guest critic: Jayme Yen
Selected Related Reading