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Parting thoughts on Gramsci Monument

Rocío’s description of Raphael Montañez Ortiz’s Rainforest Room got me thinking about how the Gramsci Monument‘s situation in outdoor space related to experience rather than representation. In 2014, I saw Thomas’ Flamme Éternelle – a two-month-long presence and production project at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Though Palais de Tokyo called it an “authentic public space inside the institution,” the physicality of the project functioned so differently due to its site within an institutional art space: one which re-presents objects and structures within a predefined cultural value system. Whereas any project taking place at Palais de Tokyo is so clearly framed as “Art,” regardless of a visitor’s familiarity with the museum or the work, the Gramsci Monument’s “Art” status seemed constantly questioned and questionable – in part because of its physical independence from the organization that funded it. As a physical artifact, it indirectly represented all the politics that we have been speaking about, but its form was not a recreation or a transplanted replica, like the way Rocío described the Rainforest Room. I think that lack of representation is also part of what made it possible to call it a “Universal” space; though it existed on a definite territory, its form was dictated by an egalitarian idea of functionality, rather than a particular history or tradition.

I agree with Anna that one strength of Thomas’ work lies in its priority of experience over representation when it comes to approaching difficult subjects such as hierarchy, community, and philosophical ideals. Intuitively, it seems that locating an artwork in public space is one way to circumvent the issues raised by Joselit’s article in regards to maintaining the efficacy of political material in visual art. However, to underscore Whitney’s reference to Rocío’s previous post, there are certainly limits to that efficacy of physical presence when it comes to visibility. Just like any public artwork that is more concerned with its immediate effect than it is with documentation/re-presentation, the reach of the Gramsci Monument is amorphous and unmeasurable. The kids of Forest Houses used the Monument most fluidly and intensely, but there is no way to gauge how it will exist in their memories or affect their worldview.

In the years following the project, I’ve been struck by how discussions of it keep unfolding, and how many ways there are to approach it. I often think about the exclusivity and intensity of my experience and wonder how that speaks to the limits of durational projects in general – projects which are often grounded in the mechanics of everyday life, and thus have an impact that varies with the duration of participation. By existing in real-time, and not as a sanctioned art object within a museum, I think the interactions, memories, and conversations generated by the Monument have been not only valuable but practical. Perhaps we will come to find that the effects of the Gramsci Monument – on the people who live in Forest Houses, on visitors, on scholars and writers – will be subtle, but the project is certainly one that left a mark on more than a few.

I still maintain that the most transformational experience of art comes from making it, and that that transformation is available to everyone, no matter the setting or circumstance. If a monument stands for something to believe in, then I think the Gramsci Monument, among many other successes, was a tribute to the importance of putting art out with vigor, true risk, and in difficult positions.

All images are courtesy of the author.


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“Parting thoughts on Gramsci Monument” by Lex Brown – March 18, 2015

Growing Dialogue is a series of moderated online debates among thought leaders in social practice.

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