Title: MONUMENT AGAINST FASCISM
Authors: Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz
Location: Hamburg, Germany
Year complete: 1986
Description: 1 lead–clad column with aluminium structure – 12 m x 1 m x 1 m, 1 text panel, 7 tons
In 1979 the city of Hamburg, Germany was seeing a rise in Neo-Fascistic activities. Fearing a return to the country’s troubled past, the city’s government opened a public conversation. In 1983, the local government invited six artists to enter a competition to design a “Monument Against Fascism, War, and Violence – and for Peace and Human Rights.”
For Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochen Gerz, the artists who eventually won the competition, the challenge was to make a monument against authoritarian regimes that could resist the authoritarian tendencies of typical monuments… but still be a monument. They chose to construct a minimal pillar with which a public could actively interact. Made with an aluminum substructure and clad in sheets of soft lead, the public was invited to pledge their resistance to fascistic pressures by impressing their signatures with a steel stylus onto the surface of the pillar. On each of the pillar’s four sides there were instructions in six languages that read:
“We invite the citizens of Hamburg, and visitors to the town, to add their name here to ours. In doing so, we commit ourselves to remain vigilant. As more and more names cover this 12 meter tall lead column, it will gradually be lowered into the ground. One day it will have disappeared completely, and the site of the Hamburg monument against fascism will be empty. In the end, it is only we ourselves who can rise up against injustice.”
As noted in the inscription, the pillar’s most notable feature was that it would eventually disappear into the ground beneath it. From its unveiling in 1986 until its complete disappearance in 1993, the monument was lowered six times so that its entire surface could be covered before being entombed forever underground. It is said that 70,000 signatures are carried on its surface.
Today, all that remains is a plaque on the ground where the original pillar stood and the above image of the sinking phases. The monument itself exists only as a memory, imagined or real. If we consider Pierre Nora’s words, “The less memory is experienced from the inside, the more it exists only through its exterior scaffolding and outward signs,” we can understand this monument as one which, by eschewing the permanent physical sign, forces memory back into our cities.
p.s. As it turns out, the monument’s surface was covered in more than signatures. In fact, city officials were dismayed by the amount of graffiti left by participants. The artists, however, were apt to let expression evolve as needed by the residents.
- Nora, Pierre trans. by Marc Roudebush, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire’,Representations 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory, Spring, 1989.
- Young, James E. The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1993.