Sunday, September 10, 2006
The Aesthetics of Atrocity: Remembering 9/11
Getting the aesthetics of atrocity right by committee has taken five years with nothing to show for it. Estimated costs of completing the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero is closing in on a billion dollars. It has been our contention from the beginning that the inspiration was always right there in front of the committee's collective faces, staring back in stark, abject horror at them and anyone who looked back at it: the still standing remnant of shattered dreams and lives in a building once known as the World Trade Center. They should have kept it and etched the names of those murdered on that day in the concrete walls surrounding the twin foundations. They almost had it right when they marked the site at night with twin searchlights reaching heavenward. So subtle, so profound. Now, it seems they just want to make the horror and the implications of what it all means for our future to go away by corralling the chaos and subjugating it to a design that buries it below a park where you can safely go to feed the pigeons. We keep hearing this voice somewhere on the committee: "Yeah, it was a horrible thing, but that doesn't mean we can't make it pretty. My God, the last thing we need to do is to scare people away."
Too bad for us. We're reminded of Berlin's $35 million dollar "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." Although we truly believe "less is more" when it comes to art and architecture, leave it to the Germans to take that idea which rose from their culture to construct a memorial bereft of hope and spirit. It redefines "stark." Maybe that was the point but the remaining concentration camps say more than that memorial ever will. Still, it didn't keep college students from playing hide-and-seek between the dark, concrete blocks. If they had been little kids, hopefully a parent would have told them to stop and explained why. But these were America's educated elite backpacking across Europe. The same ones, we fear, who will be someday happily feeding the pigeons in the new park over Ground Zero; the genesis seed of Bradbury's "Eloy".