On September 6, 1997 a seminar was held in the old castle of Uppsala with the title History. Memory. Oblivion. linked to the Monumental Propaganda and Stilla flyter Fyrisån (And Quiet Flows the Fyrisån) exhibitions, which were shown at the Art Museum. The seminar was co-arranged by Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet (the Swedish AICA-section) and Uppsala Konstmuseum (Uppsala Art Museum)
HISTORY. MEMORY. OBLIVION.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1997.
On September 6, 1997 the burial of Princess Diana, ”England´s Rose”, was televised all over the world with a boundless sea of floral tributes, temporary monuments to a beloved person, ”The People´s Princess”. Perhaps it its better to go to the florist, when you are mourning, than to erect eternal monuments in bronze or marble.
By chance a seminar was held the same day in the old castle of Uppsala with the title History. Memory. Oblivion. linked to the Monumental Propaganda and Stilla flyter Fyrisån (And Quiet Flows the Fyrisån) exhibitions, which were shown at the Art Museum. The seminar was co-arranged by Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet (the Swedish AICA-section) and Uppsala Konstmuseum (Uppsala Art Museum) and was made possible with financial support from Svenska Institutet (The Swedish Institute), Statens kulturråd (The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs) and IASPIS (International Artists´ Studio Program in Sweden). The auditorium was crowded with people from Sweden and other Nordic countries. Artists, art critics, art historians, aestheticians, Slavists, museum people, specialists in the field of public art and the public of the museum were invited. The organizers will publish the texts from the meeting on the Internet.
Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, responsible for Monumental Propaganda, helped us to start a serious discussion on the Socialist-realistic monuments from the Soviet Union. They show how ideals of the past we no longer wish to acknowledge can be turned into history lessons. 113 artists from Europe, Russia and United States participated in the show.
It is said that the Grand Narratives have disappeared in Western aesthetics. Utopian modernism cracked and many of the Soviet Union sculptures were pulled down after 1989. But who will take the decisions about future public art – the commissioner, the artist or the public? What does it represent in a period of new myths, which we can find every day in the mass media and in the new technology? What people do we want to commemorate? Or are we living in an era with no room for eternal monuments?
In Sweden the discussion until now has been very limited. A feeling has been in the air that artists will lose their jobs if public art is too much debated. Furthermore criticism in Western societies in front of public art has often been charged with shame and regarded as a protest against the democratic process itself, which takes care of the creation of the object. But the Estonia memorial by Miroslaw Balka at Djurgården in Stockholm has been much discussed. The first design by the artist had to be changed because of different kinds of protests. The final version was inaugurated on September 28th, three years after the disaster. One of the problems was the listing of names of people who disappeared in the sea. Perhaps, after the installations and sculptures commemorating those who died of AIDS, we are today more open to engraving in public sculptures the names of people who have perished. The Estonia memorial will tell us about the fragility of life in our society. A positive step forward is also that Balka is a foreigner. He won the competition for the memorial among a group of invited artists from different countries. Regionalism and nationalism in the field of public art has been very strong in Sweden for a long time.
Annika Öhrner (Stockholm and Gothenburg) lectured about ”A Memorial in the 1990s – Miroslaw Balka´s Memorial for the Victims of the M/S Estonia Disaster”, Vitaly Komar (USA since 1977) talked about ”Monumental Propaganda”, assisted during the panel discussion by Alexander Melamid (USA since 1977), Joseph Kosuth (New York and Ghent) told us about ”Correspondence Across a Room”, Olesya Turkina (St. Petersburg) about ”Post-Totalitarian Art as a Mnemonic-Technique: Recollections Rising – 2”, Joseph Backstein (Moscow) about ”The Privatization of History” and Gunilla Bandolin (Stockholm and Malmö) about ”Colonizing the Past. History as Monument”. The discussion rich on ideas which followed was moderated by Ulrika Knutson (Uppsala). Sara Arrhenius (Stockholm), Olga Chernysheva (Moscow and Amsterdam), Vadim Fishkin (Moscow and Ljubljana) and Lars Kleberg (Stockholm) participated in the panel.
The exhibition and the seminar started a still ongoing debate in the Swedish mass media about our dreams concerning monumentality, old and future monuments and about History, Memory and Oblivion.
But for me the place in the centre of Stockholm, where Olof Palme was shot down in the open street on February 28th, 1986 with all the flowers on the ground, is more impressive than many eternal monuments. We showed our deep emotions over what had happened. Sweden suddenly became a part of the world. Among other things it told us that we are all mortal. Also the most beautiful red roses will fade away and be a part of the cycle of nature.
President AICA Sweden.