Monumental cares

Sites of history and contemporary art

Mechtild Widrich
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The monument debates of the past decade, together with concerns over systemic injustice, extraction economies, and ecological disaster, as well as phenomena of global migrations and tourism, and the interleaving of live and mediated images and experience on social media, have given rise to new practices of public art and commemoration. Artists often strive to represent not specific events, persons, or points of agreement, but vast contentious problems—for publics at home and abroad, on the ground and online. A new site-specificity and media-friendly approaches to conveying it, sometimes via objects, sometimes through ‘transparent’ photographic mediums, come to the fore in recent monumental art, but also in debates about what to do with older monuments and architecture in urban space, particularly when these are the products of terror that require removal, modification, or other forms or recontextualization. Taking case studies ranging from Chicago and Berlin to Oslo, Bucharest, and Hong Kong, in media ranging from marble and glass to cardboard boxes, graffiti, and the re-enactment of historical documents, the book argues that history is being materialized by contemporary artists and activists in a register that harks back to the engaged realism of nineteenth-century art, updated to do justice both to embodied experiences of caring, and also to vaster, less tangible systems of power and information.

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