From October 2012 to January 2013, Amy and Catherine undertook a residency at the Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik (Z/KU) in Moabit, Berlin. During their time at the ZK/U, they began researching how public art and monuments are used to construct collective histories and national identities.
Berlin is a city in which national histories and identities have been built and rebuilt many times in the last century, often over the same sites. Because so much of the city is charged with connections to the past – a past that is often painful and complex – new proposals for construction are controversial, and plans to build new monuments or amend public spaces are contested and discussed.
Berlin’s public art and spaces deal with the past in many different ways. The often open, transparent and self-reflexive way in which Berlin presents its difficult history makes it an ideal place to start exploring questions about public commemoration of the past. The questions Amy and Catherine have been exploring include:
- How might public art influence construction of and reflection upon national identities?
- How do public sites affect how people inhabit their everyday spatial reality and understand their relationship to a collective past?
- How might a public artwork alter national dialogues and conversations about difficult, contemporary social problems?
- How should we understand what a monument might be? Do they always need to be ‘official’?
- Might a monument be something temporary?
- What different motivations are there for cities and nations to make monuments about the past?
- Why make monuments at all?
Amy and Catherine were interested in posing these questions about Berlin in order to think about new ways of presenting Australia’s history in its own public spaces. In contrast to Berlin, they feel that Australia tends to presents its history in a way that emphasises the heroic actions of individuals but avoids considering the collective historical, political or global context of their achievements.
Based on their research, Amy and Catherine intend to sketch out and conceptualise a series of propositional monuments for Melbourne and Australia.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.