Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nothing will come of nothing

I'm so lazy that I've only just bothered to look at the plans for the 9/11 memorial. And I'm so shallow that the only reason I did that was because I saw a news story informing an awestruck world that Billy Crystal is going to be a director of the fundraising committee, and I thought, crikey, Billy Crystal's 60 years old, I wonder whether Soap has aged better than he has. And I'm so cynical that, when I noticed Robert De Niro was on the same board, I immediately surmised that they're doing it to promote a threequel called Analyze The Other.

Anyway, the memorial will (if Billy and Bob and their slebby pals get their various acts together) go by the name of Reflecting Absence, which is, I suppose, what memorials should do; offer a physical representation not just of those who are no longer around, but of the emptiness and loss that their absence creates. This is the opposite of Baudrillard's analysis of the successive phases of the image; in the third phase, he opines, the image masks the absence of a profound reality. But you knew that. A memorial, by contrast, draws attention to the fact of that absence.

The problem is that nothingness is a difficult thing to represent: you have to create an environment in which one expects presence to make the absence apparent. This is why Cage's 4'33" is not just any old silence; it needs the musicians, the conductor, the audience to remind us what we aren't hearing.

I'm not Stephen Bayley's greatest fan, but I did agree with him that the only way the Millennium Dome might have been redeemed would have been to leave it completely empty (as distinct from vacuous, which is what in the end happened). Coincidentally, of course, the most lasting and successful monument to that great calendrical non-event was a structure that moves but goes precisely nowhere.

Still in London, while I like the various conceptual witticisms that pop up on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, I did prefer it in its unadorned state, when you could imagine whatever you liked there, provided it was something that didn't mind getting covered in pigeon shit and Italian exchange students who'd been kicked out of the National Gallery for snogging.

And if you don't mind getting your hands dirty, how's about Kerry Katona's new perfume, Outrageous, as reported in the Liverpool Echo, via No Rock And Roll Fun:

The French-made scent, whose bottle has a spiky black rubber top, aims to reflect the mother-of-four’s personality and the “outrageous” lies about what she has not done.

Untruths about non-events, eh? I'm impressed. Nature, as I vaguely remember from the time before I dropped physics, abhors a vacuum. Art, it would seem, rather likes the idea.


Annie said...

There's a brilliant monument in Berlin on the square where the book-burnings were held - you can see into a room below street level through a pane of glass, the room is lined with empty shelves. Picturing what a world without books would look like.

Dick Headley said...

"...nothingness is a difficult thing to represent"

What can I say?

Billy said...

I wish they hadn't build a memorial at all - just left the space there.

But they wouldn't have done that...

Annie said...

I'm so shallow that I didn't bother going to see the WTC site in New York because I wasn't entirely convinced it would make me cry.

Tim Footman said...

That sounds chilling, Annie. But probably not 'inclusive' enough for London.

Not a lot, it would seem, Dick.

Billy: If the decision to get someone to do the memorial is a commission, is the decision to leave a space an omission?

That's not shallow, Annie. Just self-aware.

garfer said...

I wish they'd wrap up Gordon Brown they way they wrapped up the Reichstag.

amyonymous said...

i keep thinking "the absence of memory" but then i guess it's "the persistence of memory." neither applies here except, somehow, to me.

tim - if you get a chance, read my july 23 blog. what happened at Clarksdale was way more cooler than going to the crossroads and meeting the devil.

or . . . maybe we DID meet the devil?

Tim Footman said...

And put him on the plinth, Garfer?

Amy: I always imagined the devil as resembling Tim Roth after a heavy night.