The role of the monument in civic life has become a fractious topic in America. Monuments can interpret and present a history. They can be a statement of community values. But all too often these statements or histories are one sided, incomplete, or just wrong. Artists have been grappling with the layered meanings of public monuments since they were first asked to create them. Many artists have used the Popwalk app to place layers of meaning at monuments or historical sites.
For this post, we wanted to give examples of how artists are using Popwalk to place multiple narratives to enrich, subvert, or protest the meaning of monuments and historic locations. Along with these examples, we want to start a conversation about the tools for questioning and disrupting the authority implied in the historical narratives of the monument. This is meant to be a resource for artists: to consider how they might use the Popwalk app to tell stories that are missing from particular places. Every location has many stories to tell. Our perception of a location is often limited by the stories that we are told about that place. Our hope is that artists will continue to use Popwalk to enrich the meaning and understanding of spaces everywhere.
Tell a Hidden History
Monuments commemorate historic narratives. But a single narrative is made up of many stories. Many people fight in wars. Many people march in protest, but each of their experiences is unique, and each of those experiences offer unique perspectives to a historical narrative.
Artists have used Popwalk to uncover and tell the hidden narratives that may be a part of a history or monument. One poetic and humble example of this can be seen in the work, The Irises in My Garden (40.265451, -111.643425). This animation does not tell the story of a bronze statue or public building but deals with the history of a garden. In this work, the artist illustrates the journey of a flower bulb, brought across an ocean and a continent by a small girl, one hundred and fifty years ago. It is a big story for a descrete location. This video is an example of the multiplicity of individual actions that affect the world around us. Another good example illustrating of a hidden history on Popwalk is Robert Bruno, TTU Public Artist (33.580459 , -101.880921).
Subversion and Parody
These are two tools that artists have perpetually employed to address positions of power . So, it is no coincidence that there are wonderful examples these on Popwalk. Here are just a couple:
In Salt Lake City, Utah, the public sculpture You Are Here is familiar as any monument. It sits in front of the convention center, at the end of a prominent avenue. The sculpture itself is not contentious, though many see it as banal. One artist decided to subvert this work by “reinterpret(ing) the interchangeable meaning of being present and coexisting within diametric realities”. Accordingly, he created his Popwalk video and placed it right next to this public sculpture. The result is visually stunning and succeeds in deconstructing the meaning of the original work.
Parody is also used in the video Sibley Guide to Artists (40.761496, -73.977938). Here the artist is using the Sibley Guide to lambast stereotypes in the art world. Sibley Guides are well-known reference books, used to identify birds or trees. In the video, the narrator describes the various tropes of artists that enter into the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the same way that a naturalist might describe different varieties of birds.
Much protest by artists tends to be both assertive and nuanced. This is the case with the work Capital X, (40.776878, -111.888224) a performance by the artist, Kristina Lenzi. This work is situated in front of the state capital in Utah. We see the building itself in the video. The artist slowly walks towards us, while we hear the sounds of contentious debate coming from inside the building. The video is a thoughtful reflection and protest against the current state of political affairs. This works remains constantly available at the foot of the capital, allowing all to think on this powerful statement.
There are many other examples of artists using Popwalk to reinterpret, reexamine, and commemorate the histories of monuments and historic locations. Other notable examples are Labor of the Faithful (52.75257, 10.87599) in which the artist considers the role of unused churches, or Hollow for an Instant (40.755515, -111.877997) in which the artist commemorates the location of personal tragedy. Popwalk is a powerful tool to make these stories available, right at the site of the monument. It is our hope that artists will continue to create such thoughtful reactions to these locations and that we will be able to support artists in this important work.