Erica Doss Lecture Review – Erin Lorentzen

Erica Doss’ Lecture on Memorial Mania was an interesting and intriguing view on society’s growing obsession with memory and loss. Doss is a Professor at the University of Notre Dame whom has also written several books over her career. From her first book Breton, Pollock, and Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism (1991) to Twentieth-Century American Art (2002), Doss has done a vast amount of research and gained the knowledge of expertise in Modern Art and Contemporary Art.  In her most recent book, Memorial Mania (2011), Doss “argues that these memorials underscore our obsession with issues of memory and history, and the urgent desire to express—and claim—those issues in visibly public contexts.”

Doss’s was invited here to discuss and lecture on this topic of her new book Memorial Mania. Moving through several types of memorials and the emotions they can evoke, Doss showed the transition of memorials from the past to the present. She started by discussing the Juan de Oñate sculpture that has been a controversial issue since it’s revealing in dedication at the Oñate Monument and Visitors Center in Española. This controversy caused uprising in thought and actions not only about whether the Oñata colonization was heroic or evil, but also what should be considered public art and what or how cities decide to portray. Even with the angry exchange of letters from the public, the sculpture was completed in the hopes of increasing attraction to the city.

Doss used this sculpture to bring the idea to the table of public feelings that can and are evoked from public art and memorials. This memorial was “vandalized” by an unknown group that cut off it’s right foot before it’s unveiling. During Onate’s quest of colonization in New Mexico, he has a man that ruled with vile ways. Enslavement of many of the villages occurred, along with the cutting off of the right foot of young men. When the statue was to be dedicated, cutting the right off by the unknown group was a symbol of their anger with the decision of the city and a statement of how they view the conquistador’s victories. Leaving a note behind stating, “we see no glory in celebrating Oñate’s fourth centennial, and we do not want our faces rubbed in it.”

This anger and violation of a public moment is only one of many that Doss touched on in her lecture, but she also discussed the emerging types of monuments being constructed for a variety of reasons. Instead of honoring these past “heroes,” monuments now carry the intention of evoking different types of public emotion. The Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial constructed to remember the not only the lynching of the three young men, but to all of the terror that was brought upon African American’s in the 1920’s. This memorial makes heroes of the people who struggled, but also the shame that white people also feel. These “archives of feeling” that affect the experience through the visual was what Doss brought to the table. She also mentioned anger and rage is politically based memorials such as the protests that were brought among the placement of the International Freedom Center Museum.

Terms of gratitude to the World War veterans were discussed along with sadness, loss, victimization, and pain. Doss brings up the desire of wanting to be remembered, who counts? What matters most? Memorials now are being designed beyond the leaders of conquest and power, but now the ones who suffered. Many contain the desire to be remembered and their pain to be acknowledged. Doss also discussed the way memorials are being portrayed. The most intriguing one that she talked about was one of the 9/11 Memorials. Yes, everyone needs to remember 9/11 and it was inevitable that there would be many ideas of ways to convey the deep pain of this day. This particular memorial stands out because it wasn’t some big statue or monument that was constructed, but a gathering of people, mainly young students, that waved flags and wrote the names of victims on small strips of paper. The engagement of the still living and those who feel in such a tragic day allows memory and connection to successfully surface.

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