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Image Gallery

Guest of honor: Sheila Bonde, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Archaeology, and History of Art and Architecture

Chorus discussants: Ana Escobedo, Mark Stokely, Daria Solomon, Tim Carey, Alex Yuly, Marissa Faerber, Tess Rafael

Please post discussion points and queries below before midnight on Wednesday

Posted at Apr 01/2009 04:18PM:
Marissa Faerber: I am interested in exploring the relationship between architectural objects in their entirety and their subsequent role once they have been dismantled. In Exorcizing Remains, van der Hoorn makes the assertion that these “relics” – specifically pieces of the Berlin Wall and objects from Prora – take on an entirely new form once they are removed from their original form. While Prora stood in its original form, it was shunned as an architectural monstrosity. Why, then, were pieces of the buildings looted and coveted until barely anything remained?

The concept of the “recycled eyesore” may help to explain the phenomenon of rejection followed by desire to own a piece of the structure. An object in its original form still holds all of the negative historical associations. A fragment of the object, however, symbolizes destruction, rebirth and even the active participation of the individual in the reshaping of history.

What makes these objects change so much once they are bits of stone rather than imposing concrete monoliths? Do they really change at all, or is it merely a function of a society trying to come to terms with a shared memory?

Posted at Apr 01/2009 05:30PM:
Mark Stokely: One thing that really struck me through out all this week’ reading was the idea of transfer of ownership in relation to memory practices. From the reading, I got the notion that with spolia, ownership is an important issue, but I’m still wrestling with how ownership comes in to play. As we discussed briefly at the end of last class, Van der Hoorn brings up the idea of owning part of the Berlin wall and how this relates to memory practices. She begins her essay with the notion that a piece of architecture can live in fragment, “onto which people can project their memories, frustrations, or experiences.” (189) In class, we discussed how the simple fact of owning a part of the wall allows the people of Berlin, and the world, “own” the memory of the wall. In contrast, Van der Hoorn notes how the people who’ve lived with/ worked next to Prora did not have the same opportunity to own a part of Prora. The site was under the control of the owners, often people who did not have significant memories of Prora. This material ownership, or lack there of, seems to produce such different ways of remembering the two things in fragment. I’m wondering how the Berlin Wall would have been remember if it was all re-used as roads. How does the ownership of a fragment allow the “woodpeckers” “own” there memory of the wall? Do the looters of Prora “own” the memory more so than those who have lived with Prora?

Following this idea of ownership through material ownership I’ve also become interested in the idea of other ways of “owning” memory. For instance, Van der Hoorn discusses how the people around Prora took possession of Prora’s memory without physically owning the object. They did this by reducing, “the place to its own icon and by that means, integrate it into something new.” (206) Reinterpretation of memory seemed to be a brig theme in these readings, and I’m wondering how ownership comes into play with reinterpretation. As both Papalexandrou and Elsner discuss in their essays, A lot of late antiquity spolia was concerned with the use of Pagan symbols and artifacts in spolia. The mention how through spolia, and iconoclasm, these Pagan symbols were given Christian re-interpretations. Going as far as carving crosses into the pagan statues and reliefs, it seems to me that this ownership of the statues by the Christians allowed for this reinterpretation. At the same time however, is it this reinterpretation of the statues that then allows the Christians to “own” the memory of these statues?

Papalexandrou brings up Liz James’ point that most visual stimuli in medieval times were often almost immediately assumed to have positive qualities rather than negative, making the pagan and Christian symbols ambiguous. Thus, it’s hard to distinguish between weather or not the people were “reading” or “misreading” what they saw. Paralexandrou goes on to discuss how the collage of spolia goes on to create confusion. It seems to me that a lot of this confusion and misreading of spolia comes from the lack of context that spolia produces. Spolia takes ownership away from those that originally produced the image. From there, however, I’m unsure whether or not it’s the physical owner of the image in spolia who then promotes the memory practice, or if it’s the people placing there own “positive” value on the image that causes them reinterpret the image.

The Arch of Constantine gives us a good example of when it’s the physical owner controlling the memory rather than the people. With the imagery of past, good emperors, Constantine uses spolia to produce “imperial propaganda”. At the same time, however, the collage of his spolia still causes confusion today. As Elsner brings up, some people still get confused as to when the arch was actually erected.

I guess with all the thoughts, my main concern is with the ownership involved with spolia. To re-use an architectural fragment, one must own the fragment so how does the play in memory practices. Does it matter who the new owner is in creating new memories? Is it this new owner who is charged with the changing of the memory of this object? Also, I’m really concerned with the idea of “owning” a memory, and whether or not that is possible. Does “owning” a memory come from ownership of the physical fragment? Does reinterpretation come from “owning” a memory, or does “owning” a memory come from reinterpretation? Is ownership inherent because of personal memory? Or must ownership come from the ability to change or destroy social memory? In summation, I’m really just interested in the relationship between the transfer of physical ownership and the resulting memory practices.

Posted at Apr 01/2009 09:44PM:
Tim Carey: Reading about the spoliation of the Berlin Wall, I started to wonder what in particular made that particular structure more prone to dismembering than others. Sticking to Germany, for example, why weren’t any of the concentration camps destroyed at the end of World War II? What makes us want to remember events like the Holocaust where they occurred? It is also interesting to point out that like the pieces of the Berlin Wall have made their way across the globe, and there are many memorials to the Holocaust outside of Europe

I was also interested in the split between spolia and simple reuse of materials. The use of recyclable materials has become more common in architecture, but most of the time the reuse of materials is simply out of economy or an effort to be “green” and not for a specific meaning (while looking for examples I even found a woman who built herself a house out of an airplane, but she had no emotional connection to the plane whatsoever). Perhaps even more common today is the conversion of spaces entirely, and I also wonder if such practices have any relation with spolia. Many converted buildings I have been in for example, still have a recognition of what it once was – I went to a school for a time that had been converted from a hospital in the 1800s, but the teachers still often mentioned the building’s former use.

I also found it interesting that Elsner brought the spoliation of poets into his article, but I was struck by how different that is from the spoliation of objects – even when the third century poets lifted lines from Homer and Virgil, the original texts were intact. Spoliation of objects, however, has an inherently iconoclastic quality – in order to reuse the materials, they have to be removed from their original location, and probably altered to fit the new space.

Posted at Apr 01/2009 10:06PM:
Ana Escobedo: I am most interested in the use of spolia as a mnemonic device and the privatization of a public symbol. In Kinney’s work it is mentioned that a fragment of spolia is valued as much, if not more, for its use in the present as well as its link to the past. To extend this to the use of the mnemonic device, it seems that the pieces of spolia are being utilized more to take on an modern idea instead of truly alluding to the past.

For example, the Arch of Constantine was closely examined in Elsner’s work. Although it is a common belief that the use of spolia on this arch was intended to link Constantine to all the former emperors to promote his tenuous authority, I want to argue that Constantine was attempting something different. I want to argue that perhaps that Constantine was trying to place all these objects in a new web of associations in an attempt to change the artistic characteristics of his predecessors’ art and thus linking all former “golden age” art to his own kingdom. Instead of trying to make his architecture like that of his predecessors’, he is trying to make it seem like his predecessors’ had to try and make their art like his. So instead of someone looking at the arch of Constantine and seeing Trajan’s influence, a viewer would look at the column of Trajan and link it immediately back to Constantine. I think there is a difference, although not a very explicit one.

Like souvenir pieces of the Berlin Wall, I think that Constantine is trying to privatize the entire Roman Empire, by owing its artistic traditions. He is not inheriting the empire, the empire was always “owned” by him through the use of his of spolia and traditional artistic depictions (such as the adlocutio, which is on almost every important relief from the Roman Empire).

There is also a very tangible quality to this. Only the emperor would have the power to collect and re-carve important artistic reliefs. Meanwhile, the Berlin Wall was an important example of democracy because everyone had or has the ability to obtain the spolia.

I really want to examine the way that spolia doesn’t just insert the past into the present, but the present into the past.

Posted at Apr 01/2009 11:24PM:
Alex Yuly: In the "Exorcising Remains" reading, van der Hoorn talks about the Berlin Wall and its transformation from a public symbol into something private and personal. This transformation parallels the transformation of the Wall from a foreboding, monolithic architectural feature into a collection of spolia. The entanglement of public and private presented here seems to allude to this class' first discussion on the bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia.

The MOVE conflict was both a public and a private issue, much like the Berlin Wall. The MOVE conflict was private in that the members of MOVE sealed themselves inside 6221 Osage Avenue, cutting themselves off from the surrounding community. However, it was also public in that MOVE's actions, as a result of their seemingly private and disconnected nature, ended up affecting the entire community as an offensive and obtrusive outlier of filth, noise, and violence.

The public and private elements of MOVE relate directly to the corresponding public and private elements of the Berlin Wall. The Wall, much like the MOVE house, was a piece of unwelcome architecture, disconnected from its surroundings and treated with distinct apprehension by its neighbors. When the Wall fell, though, it then became public, as people became "actively involved as co-performers in the destruction of the Wall and what it was symbolizing" (van der Hoorn 7).

The MOVE conflict also represented a chronological shift from private to public over time, beginning as a private monument and meeting its end in a public event of destruction. Also, the MOVE building, like the Berlin Wall, generated spolia, though of a different kind. The Berlin Wall was broken into pieces that came to serve as symbolic reminders of the monument's destruction. The MOVE house was also destroyed, although it was not physical pieces of the house itself that mattered but the fragments of destruction it left behind in the surrounding affected community. Each person in the Osage neighborhood whose house was destroyed became a kind of spolia -- a scattered fragment of the preceding destruction.

It seems from these two examples that spolia always involves a conflict and/or transition from public to private.

Posted at Apr 02/2009 12:30AM:
Tess: Through the different readings on spolia, I was particularly interested in the idea of authenticity as it relates to meaning, value and ownership.

As objects, be they architectural fragments or other artifacts, change hands and are placed in new contexts, how do they retain or loose their authenticity? And who dictates the outcome of this process?

Like Omur, I am fascinated by the idea of the finished product in architecture, the unveiling of the seemingly permanent structure, when really, like anything in this world, buildings are at the mercy of many destructive (or, perhaps, constructive) forces. Why is it that in recognizing the changes an artifact has undergone do we therefore deem it less authentic?

Can anything be “authentic” once it has been altered by the hands of man? In Kinney’s discussion of the concept of spolia, he touched on gemstones as an exception to this process of inauthentification (is that a word? De-authentification?). When it is common belief that an object itself holds power in its natural state (as opposed to man placing power or meaning within it through alteration, use, religion, narratives, etc), can the reuse of it be instead viewed as use?

Once we accept the fluidity of the material world, ownership becomes a major issue. Like Mark, I found this to be an important theme woven through the readings for this week. As he seems to have tackled ownership from all angles, I won’t go into too much detail here. I agree that collective participation in the rituals of dismantling or plundering can be incredibly important when it comes to “owning” or feeling at peace with painful memories.

Various forms of reuse indicate the important role that the built environment plays as a repository of memory. Does the act of reappropriation somehow destroy or neutralize the memory of an object’s original context? Or can different narratives coexist and build upon one another within a new creative context? Using citations in a paper does not destroy their original source. If anything, the web built between and across concepts makes each citation more meaningful and encourages further exploration. The same applies to the built environment. Dismemberment may exorcize a site, or piece of a site, of an element of its past or even produce three-dimensional testimonies to the end of an era, but the memory of the original structure, though perhaps more digestible once dismantled, will never be forgotten.

Hiroshima: Ruins and Memorials

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