Memorials are sites where people may gather to remember and reflect upon people, places, and things of the past. Most commonly, public memorials are sites with which to engage collective, historical traumas. Sometimes memorials are gardens with cascading waterfalls or fountains, sometimes memorials pay tribute to deceased loved ones or historical figures with plaques or statues, otherwise known as monuments. There are no set parameters for what can and cannot be a memorial and artists are consistently employing innovative methods to push the boundaries of what can be a memorial–and to some extent–what can be a monument. The central problem regarding memorials (and more explicitly, monuments) is that often the memorial celebrates history under a populist lens. Memorials typically reflect the historical narratives of dominant culture. The problem with hegemonic historical narratives is that these historicities shift as hegemonic attitudes shift and evolve over time; this is explicitly seen in the recent crisis regarding Civil War monuments and memorials, especially Confederate statues.
Confederate monuments and memorials have come into crisis as more and more Americans demand a reckoning with and conciliation for American slavery and the perpetuation of celebrating/honoring historical conspirators of our nation’s most horrendous tragedy. Artists like Dread Scott and Kara Walker are expanding definitions of memorializations as they provide insight into how performance art and temporary memorials can add to the conversation about fair representation. Alternative Monuments examines how performance art has been used to confront the Nietzschean assertion that monumental history dissuades the living from remembering the past as it actually happened in exchange for the glorification of specific, historical figures.
Our work examines performance art in public spaces and investigates how performance art can be used to memorialize global events. We turn to political performance artists, avant garde performance artists, and performative modes of memorializing past events/eras to answer questions like: 1. How does performance engage with and/or enact memorialization; and 2. What can be learned from or created by expanding the definition of memorials to include performance art? This work adds to Mechtild Widrich’s research on performative monuments as well as Jan Cohen-Cruz’s work on radical street art and Scott Magelssen’s work on living history sites.