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On statues, and what can and cannot be said

Posted on by Tina Novero

From the Berkeley Blog: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2017/08/18/on-statues-and-what-can-and-cannot-be-said/
By Andrew Shanken (GUH fellow and co-instructor of the GUH course City of Memory )
August 18, 2017

I’ve been loath to write about what’s happening with Confederate statues, but a few sleepless nights cured my diffidence. As an architectural historian who works on memorials and has dabbled in the history of historic preservation, I’ve vacillated over the years between a Ruskinian position (“let it moulder”) and a Rieglian position, trying to establish some basis, however culturally relative, for how we value parts of the built environment.

My first thought on the matter at hand is that there have been waves of iconoclasm since memorials and statues first became fixtures in the built environment. While the present phenomenon is part of a modern reaction to what are essentially political interventions in the built environment, Romans regularly cleared out the statues that cluttered the Forum. It was a form of political erasure, a fine art for any successful autocrat. France experienced moments of “statuophobia” tagged to the waves of revolutions that swept through that country in the 19th century. More recently, statues came down after the fall of the Soviet Union and its former puppet states, Saddam statues fell in Iraq, and across the world reactionaries have used iconoclasm as a form of violence manqué, often alongside actual violence. This sort of erasure has been a tool of the left and the right; iconoclasm is not a politically fixed act.

But it is erasure and this is a point that we need to explore a bit more vigorously. What are these statues saying and should we be silencing it or responding to it? I’m not totally sure I know the answer to that question.

There is, luckily, a history of contest in the south over Civil War and civil rights statues, one explored in a recent book by Dell Upton: What Can and Can’t Be Said. The title gets right to the heart of it. We are witnessing a rupture in the basic conception of what can and can’t be said publicly.

White nationalists, emboldened by the present regime, feel empowered to speak and are using monuments to do so. This is not a new use for these monuments, but the situation is amplified, acute, raw. These monuments are linguistically flexible. They can be quietly beautiful one moment, a seemingly harmless piece of civic adornment—and many were erected, we have forgotten, during the reign of the City Beautiful—and harnessed for evil in another. People have rushed in to counter the darkness unleashed in places like Charlottesville verbally, bodily, and violently. The violence has a larger context, of course, but some of it may issue from the fact that these statues are bold: tall, dignified, larger than life, often aesthetically powerful, and laden with layers of dark history. Going back to Upton’s title, what words can possibly counter that! Fists, lassoes, physical force of some sort seems to be the answer for many people. Where words fail to win the day, the statue comes down.

But should it? It is, I suppose, not enough to argue that these statues are artistically significant. Beautiful things get destroyed routinely. We may rue their passing, but preservation often has a mightily precious view of artistic and age value.

Perhaps there is some verbal or cultural equivalent to a martial arts move that could turn the power of these statues against them. Can they be lampooned, subtitled or otherwise diffused by further intervention? At the moment, I think not, at least not now. If Americans were capable of meaningful, civil dialogue, the white nationalists would not be marching and Antifa would not be storming the marches. But perhaps these statues have a role to play down the road, didactically, politically, aesthetically. I was astonished to learn that there has been for about 20 years a return to erecting Stalin statues in the former Soviet lands.

Serious dialogue begins with empathy. Perhaps we might begin that dialogue with a considered act of empathy toward these statues. They are prisoners of war, in effect, and deserve that consideration.


Celluloid Landscape

Posted on by Tina Novero

Celluloid Landscape From the Arts + Design blog: arts.berkeley.edu/arc-fellows-celluloid-landscape/ By Gene Stroman and Chip Sullivan (2017 ARC Fellows) Spring 2017 Cinema can be useful for landscape architects and other designers of the built environment. Over the course of the Spring semester, Professor Chip Sullivan and I have been exploring this proposition. We have delved into the body of previous theory on the intersection between architectural design and the art of filmmaking. We have also enthusiastically worked our way through a list of “Landscape Films”, where landscapes and urban places take on more of a central role than just the setting for a…


Awakening the Dragon: Art, Urban Space + Authoritarianism

Posted on by TIna Novero
Filed under: Art,
Tagged: art

By Tina Novero, Program Coordinator, Global Urban Humanities The latest Global Urban Humanities Brown Bag lecture on cities featured urban geographer Jason Luger, lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of City and Regional Planning. Luger’s talk explored the tensions between art activism within the authoritarian confines of Singapore. Luger explained that organization and mobilization around an annual firing of two remaining “dragon kilns” provides a metaphor for the underlying power of community efforts toward social change. The annual 3-day “Awaken the Dragon” festival involves thousands of local participants in making ceramics that fill kilns measuring over 88 feet in length.…


Nevertheless, She Persisted: Women and Land Rights in China

Posted on by Tina Novero
Filed under: Art+Village+City, China,

  By Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China promises women equal rights. But in reality, many women have to petition for years to secure equal legal rights to their village lands. Their dogged persistence is a striking example of the way quiet, long-term activism can bring about changes to people’s “right to the city,” said Lanchih Po at a recent talk sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley. “Their activism is not photogenic,” said Po, an associate adjunct professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley,…


Reflection: Using Bodies to Measure Public Space

Posted on by Ashley Hickman

Environmental design starts with the body as well as the site. In the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat, students from a variety of disciplines are exploring the physical dimensions of urban form and experience. On September 27, 2016, choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and urban designer Ghigo di Tommaso led the class in exercises designed to sharpen awareness of how we use our senses to understand space and place. They also discussed their cross-disciplinary course Public Space: Placemaking and Performance. Undergraduate Architecture student Ashley Hickman describes the two-hour session: During the presentation, Chong Shuch said she was a performer who…


Publication: No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life

Posted on by Anne Jonas
Filed under: Art, Geography, Los Angeles,

The first Global Urban Humanities research studio, “No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life” took place in Spring of 2014, co-taught by Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Anne Walsh (Art Practice). With six PhD students, three MFA candidates, and one undergraduate student from a diverse set of disciplinary backgrounds, the course took on Los Angeles and the multiple themes generated by the concept of mobility (and its inverse: immobility). Over the course of the semester, students visited LA multiple times and explored the city via car, bus, light rail, walking, and running, focusing on the circulation of bodies, stories, designed forms,…


Rue Mapp on Outdoor Afro and the Nature of Race

Posted on by Crister Brady
Filed under: Oakland,

The stereotypical American explorer of wilderness is usually portrayed as a white male. The word “urban” is often a code word for “black.” Oakland native Rue Mapp stands stereotypes on their head. She grew up with a deep appreciation of nature developed over summers at her grandparents’ ranch in rural Lake County. She has become nationally recognized for her leadership in encouraging fellow African Americans to get outdoors. On September 13th, she came to speak to the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat. Crister Brady, a student in the class who is pursuing…