In our last class we had a guest lecture by Leah Garnett, who teaches drawing and sculpture in the Fine Arts department here at Mount Allison. In her lecture she spoke of many different ideas and concepts pertaining to installation art as well as sculpture. However, one thing that she did mention was the concept of monuments. Monuments are all around us, every day. Usually, a monument is erected or commissioned as a piece that is in memoriam of someone, or a group of someones, to recognize a great act, deed or sacrifice. Here at Mount Allison, we have memorial plaques in the student centre that commemorate and recognize students who attended the institution, but gave their lives to fighting for Canada in various wars. Almost every town or city will have some sort of war memorial, whether it is extravagant or simple, where wreaths are placed each year on Remembrance Day. And yet, the interesting thing to me, is that I have never questioned or wondered who exactly designs all of these memorials.
One of the simplest forms of monument that people are likely to be familiar with is that of a headstone. Though in modern Western society these are personal monuments for loved ones, they are still recognizable as a structure that is meant to stand as a lasting reminder that this person, did indeed exist. Of course, headstones and grave markers have not always been simple, nor do they remain simple today. Ancient Egyptians had intricate pyramids for their most honoured dead, while ancient Greeks and Romans had necropoleis, literally “cities of the dead” where the deceased were left to rest in replicas of houses.
This practice of remembering those who have passed on through monument lives on in such a similar fashion. The wealthy dead will have masoleums or memorial statues, while the less wealthy may have just a simple head marker. If you sacrificed yourself or were an important personage in the country or city you grew up in, a monument may be erected for you, in the form of a plaque, building or statue. Now, companies design the basic tombstones for “everyday” deceased people, but people of significance will be rewarded with something more. This something more will likely be commissioned by a branch of government and designed by an artist. However, the concept of the monument itself is what interests me the most. Why do we feel the urge to commemorate people through monuments? I suppose it may be related to an idea of creating something physical that be a visual reminder to people. After all, the proverb does go “out of sight is out of mind”. Perhaps human nature demands a visible presence in order for remembrance and respect to be dutifully paid to these honourable dead.