Monument D.I.Y.

Installation Shot, Agathe Snow, All Access World, 2011, Courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim, Photo: Mathias Schormann

With its chaotic visual imagery, Agathe Snow’s All Access World feels like Berlin. There are a ton of brightly colored images posted on the walls covering the entire room. In the middle, is an array of what could be small parade floats, approximations of internationally recognized monuments, sometimes crudely made out of a mish-mash of materials. The floor is covered partially with a bright pink pseudo-map of the world. The images on the walls of Snow’s installation are mainly collages of individual monuments. Dozens of what look to be tourist snapped images of a site are piled on, along with pieces of rope or small plastic toys. I got the sense that a Google image search of the cities depicted would render similar findings. The multitude of visual stimuli alone forces a slow, archaeological handling of the space.

By recreating human scale models of famous architecture, structures and historical marvels, Snow presents her work as a showroom for products. The structures themselves are reminiscent of example Big Ben, or the Hollywood sign, but their attainable size suggests that you too could have some for your very own. The catalog even offers a how-to guide for constructing one for yourself. The Stonehenge on wheels is particularly humorous, as it negates the mystery of how those big rocks got in a circle in the first place. This focus on recreating genericizes the objects and strips them of their history; monuments without the baggage. But what is the point of having a grand symbolic structure if it has nothing to say?

Installation Shot, Agathe Snow, All Access World, 2011, Courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim, Photo: Mathias Schormann

The fact of the matter is that we see this all the time. From world’s fairs to Las Vegas, landmarks and cultures have been rebuilt and represented to varying degrees of accuracy. Entire theme parks have been developed on the premise of bringing the world to you, be it Epcot Center, or on a larger scale, China’s Window of the World. A long car ride down to Florida in order to experience Norway and Italy and Germany may seem like a much better option than an entire European vacation, and there’s no pressure to learn the language. The recreations at world expositions served the purpose of enticing further exploration of these areas by a greater audience. Explorers bringing home the exoticism of Ancient Rome and the Orient led to the broadening of horizons and opened cultural passages to worldwide access. Today, however, I wonder about the amount of tourist dollars generated in Egypt by the Luxor Hotel and Casino.

Conversely, one could argue that it is unnecessary to go to the actual sites, as a theme park facsimile or the Internet can provide us with the same vantage points and access to information. I’ve never seen an image of the Lincoln Memorial more meaningful than any other, and seeing it in D.C. at this point doesn’t really excite me. I could only speculate that perhaps because of the breadth of images I’ve been exposed to on the one subject, the monument reads as a banal image to which I am bored and well-accustomed. One could make a case for aura and the ability of the physical world to give us a visceral experience, but I contend that the access to these places is so great that they have infiltrated our lives without us even actively seeking them out, and in the process they have lost their mystique.

On occasion, I have felt like an ignorant tourist blindly consuming a city, taking in the sights but without fully understanding them, as if I were experiencing the fake version at a theme park. When traveling between monuments as if checking off some sort of scavenger hunt, their value with regard to the place’s history is lost. Then, photos aren’t reminiscent of the significant event memorialized, but rather serve as status symbols; a sort of ‘I was here’ marker, to boast one’s cultured and roaming spirit. Really the intention of traveling, for me, is more self-concerned. It is not so much a quest to see what makes a place culturally relevant but instead it’s a search for a place where I feel comfortable, a home. If I’m interested in a place for its historical significance I’ll read about it at my house.

Agathe Snow during 28th Long Night of the Museums at Deutsche Guggenheim, 2011, Courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim, Photo: Nina Straßgütl

Snow’s home is New York City. While she is visible in several of the tourist images in the various cities, her relationship to New York is apparent in the personal images in the collages; holding her pregnant belly, posing as the subject rather than as a marker of time and place in front of the monumental subject. She was there for 9/11, a point which provides perspective on the entire show.  While before the World Trade Center was integral to any spanning cinematic shot of the city, the lack of the towers now symbolizes something completely different and is an anti-monument to that day, at least for the time being.

Monuments are created to commemorate and remind, bonding a particular site and time, however the only real value in Snow’s monuments comes from her position in the art market. By presenting these images and effigies of buildings and monuments, we are shown what great markers they are of a place, but also their inability to necessarily signify the history which they were built to present. Perhaps because of an over-saturation of access to the world we have reached such a tolerance for The Spectacular, these feats of ancient times or impossible and innovative architecture, that we’re dull to it’s message. If a monument ceased to exist today there would be no real cultural loss. What the Twin Towers stood for in the hearts of Americans has not been abandoned. Furthermore, we have the history, innumerable images, blueprints and scale models by which to remember them, all easily accessible and available. The proposition of the work suggests that the function of a traditional monument has been outgrown in lieu of more self-centered values. We are now free to take these objects and imbue them with individual meaning. The lingering dust of our past has finally settled; a complicated message particularly in Germany, a country where entire cities have been destroyed and rebuilt as monuments to their former glory, obscuring the event of destruction and investing in one national history over another.