Beth Alber's Marker of Change 1996 is another radically open,
anti-monumental monument. Alber, a Canadian artist, was commissioned by a
local community college women's center. The college is situated in an inner
city neighborhood of Vancouver. The purpose of the monument was to
commemorate the women victim's of violence. In particular, it was dedicated
to the 14 young women engineering students who were massacred in 1987 by a
disgruntled and disturbed male student in the City of Montreal, Canada .
The monument is
placed in a grassy opening in the woods of a park adjacent to the college
and the downtown core. In its choice of subject matter and design concept,
it challenges traditions of public art. Simply, it consists of 14 benches
set in a circle, enclosed by a low brick curb. The monument provides a
resting place among the woods, encouraging contemplation; it is open to
regeneration and play, and a range of individual emotions. It is a space to
gather, a healing circle. Alber's use of site, natural materials and form,
like Verkley, subtly implies change. Growth not permanence is its goal. Its
power lies in its call to remember, while also remaining open to
possibility, community and future.
Public Art does not need to be rarified, larger than life. It can be a tool to actively create links. Suzanne Lacey, renowned American artist and critic, describes a model of public art which differs from traditional art in that it is defined by its relationship to its audience2 .The goal of public art should be to engage its audience in issues directly related to their lives. In her recent work, Underground, she works collaboratively with battered women's centers to make a public act, art as an occasion for community building, Simultaneously she deliberately seizes the opportunity to create a place for women to make the private choice to get away from the violence. The art connects the viewers with the resources and describes underground networks that can sustain an escape.3
n "Too Close to Home ", women artists Merry Conway and Noni Pratt explore father- daughter relationships by publicly displaying objects and memorabilia donated by residents living in the community. The installation was displayed in an abandoned bank site, intended for renovation for a new museum in the American city of New Bedford. People instinctively recognize the empowerment that comes with making what is private, public, and art's unique ability to communicate and engage. More than 100 people donated personal effects and any wild variety of objects that might evoke a memory. In an article describing their project, Conway stated, " It's an amazing thing to have it (their items) put into a public forum. You take something personal, have it publicly displayed as art, and when you get it back after people have looked at it, your sense of it has changed. It's about what we value." The article goes on to say: "One woman who had contributed items, brought her father who (sic) she hadn't seen in 30 years. The salty retired sailor said to the artists: 'Girls, I've spent my whole life running away and leaving my girls behind. This is important for men to see.' He returned every day with friends." 4 This project by its engagement with its community was able to physically manifest the inner life and the commonality that linked the people, their homes and their lives in the community.
Memory is crucial to our sense of identity and worthiness. Altering history or collective memory is a crucial tool in cultural conquest. Its effect is to erase the clues that may prompt us to challenge the authority that rules us. As Kelley states "We forget what is not possible, pare down instead to what is necessary, what is required, what can just barely, after all be dreamed of"5. Without verifiable public cues to awaken our memories and legitimize our personal experiences as women and as an active part of the body politic, we remain alienated, our actions trivialized, our contributions forgotten and thus our dreams of the possible are reduced to only that which is acceptable.
The common element in these women's alternative views of public art, is in their ability to evoke a new sense and definition of community. One which acknowledges the alienated and encourages open dialogue and inclusion. These elements are vital for the development and growth of art in public places and in its potential to contribute to the struggle for viable cities.
Footnote: 1. Sert, Leger, Giedron " Nine Points of Monumentality" reprinted in Introspections, Feb 1997, MACBA, Barcelona.
2. Suzanne Lacey, Mapping the Terrain, Bay Press, San Francisco, 1995
3. C.Kelley, "Creating Memory, Contesting History" Matriart vol5, #3, 1995, Toronto
4. D.Cosper, "Action", Metropolis, (Community) Nov.1996, N.Y.
5. Op cited, Calley
WORDS: SUZANNE FARKAS
PREVIOUS PAGE: VERONICA VERKLEY - DREAM FIGURES
(photographed by the artist)
ABOVE IMAGE: BETH ALBER - MARKER OF CHANGE
(reprint of the original site plan draft by the artist)
BOTTOM IMAGE: MERRY CONWAY AND NONI PRATT - TOO CLOSE TO HOME
(photographed by Thaddeus Govan)
This article is a reprint from the current issue of W&E(Women and Environments) International Magazine Volume 46/47 fall 98. For subscriptions,editorial contributions or more information please contact [email protected] or visit the home page: W&E