Title: A monument to Arago and the Paris Meridian
Authors: Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets
Location: Paris, France
Year complete: 1994
Description: A monument to astronomer Francois Arago manifested in 135 bronze medallions placed in the ground along Arago’s finalized meridian line throughout Paris.
How to commemorate what we cannot see…
The Arago Medallions are a series of 135 bronze medallions placed within the streets of Paris to mark and commemorate the French meridian line that almost claimed status as The prime meridian.
In the early nineteenth century, astronomer and director of the Paris Observatory, Francois Arago, working off centuries of prior meridian calculations, solidified a global meridian line that ran right through Paris. Astronomers and researchers had acknowledged France’s line as the Prime dividing line of the globe for hundreds of years, until the 1885 International Meridian conference in Washington D.C.; it was decided that the meridian line running through Greenwich, England would become the prime dividing line. This left Arago’s line to be forgotten by time and progress.
In order to resist the forgetting of Arago’s work and the centuries of old Paris meridian lines, the city of Paris and the Arago Association commissioned Dutch conceptual artist, Jan Dibbets to create a monument to honor Arago’s invisible line and bring it to the physical realm.
Each 12 cm coin bears Arago’s name and an N and S to mark the direction they are pointing. The trail of medallions stretches over five miles.
Medallions and plaques traditionally take the status as sign and signifier in “monumorial” language. But despite their function, they end up more overlooked than utilized. The monument is the object meant to be seen. However, the monument as successfully being seen and acknowledged by its audience is an argument to be questioned.
Dibbets makes the medallion his monument, not only to remember an invisible line, but also to remember a line that, like a monument signifier, is frequently overlooked.
Despite Dibbets’ intentionally hard to see monument, there is still a desire to remember and make seen the astronomer Arago and his meridian line. Some sites, such as the Paris Observatory and the Saint Sulpice Church have engraved a physical scaled version of the line within their buildings. A sculpture of Arago himself was erected outside the Observatory, but today only the pedestal on which he stood remains.