People appropriate 2 new memorials in London
Two new memorials have been appropriated in London in the last few days. The first is the new memorial to Bomber Command opened in Green Park alongside the Hyde Park Corner end of Piccadilly. It is an imposing piece of architecture in a classical style designed by Liam O’Connor who also designed the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas in Staffordshire.
However, as artists and historians – including Paul Gough and Sally J. Morgan – have shown, memorials do not have monolithic meanings and frequently people appropriate them and create their own interpretations. This has previously occurred at the National Memorial Arboretum site, as Paul Gough has discussed in his chapter in People and their Pasts.
It is already happening in Piccadilly. Despite the grandeur of the architecture and imposing bronze sculpture by Philip Jackson, people are already leaving flowers and their own stories and images.There are the usual small wooden crosses one sees on Remembrance Sunday recording individual lives but also flowers and candles with messages, more reminiscent of modern sites of memory after a sudden death such as a road accident or shooting.
The second memorial was not created as such by the artist Anish Kapoor. However, the Olympic Tower –the ArcelorMittal Orbit – has just been reclaimed as ‘A Memorial in Exile’ by survivors of a Bosnian Serb concentration camp. The Omarska mine in Prijedor, Bosnia was used as a camp: thousands were imprisoned and hundreds killed. Arcelor Mittal is now the major owner of this mining complex. Iron ore – and profits – extracted from this mine have been used to make this sculpture.
As we discuss in The Public History Reader, History is never settled and finished. Even when memorials seems to be permanent and are cast in iron, bronze or stone people will always create their own meanings often subverting original intentions.