Tuesday, January 14, 2003
johncoxon 7:25 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
One of my most moving experiences, at the hands of a modern architect, ocurred , taking me by great surprise, near one of the most famous landmarks in the world, but looking at Notre Dame cathedral from this river angle you wouldn't know it was there. It is the work of the late Georges-Henri Pingusson who was commissioned to construct a monument to the 200,000 Jews deported to Nazi concentration camps. You may just be able to see a grilled aperture below ground level, just above the water line on the island wall nearest to camera. In a park behind the cathedral all you see is a very low wall, almost hidden in the bushes. Its rough white rendered surface has an almost grafitti-like inscription in black, mimicking, it seems, the way in which a prisoner might scratch their initials with some improvised writing tool. It reads 'Mémorial des Martyrs et de la Déportation' That font , if it can be called one, is echoed on the inside walls of the actual memorial as is the rough white texture. There is a steep and narrow set of stone stairs leading down to a walled in stark courtyard with a striking iron sculpture tearing at the skyline and this grid ,pictured, giving a hopeless glimpse of Paris life. On one side there are two huge suspended slabs of concrete with a narrow opening. I didn't even realise it was a monumnet until I went through the narrow gap and that is when it hit me. Months later I realised that the architect had almost somehow enticed me down the stairs and deliberately , physiclly forced me to go in by myself, echoing that the experience was intended to be a very personal one. Inside face on, behind bars, the floor is carpeted with a long black granite or marble slab receeding away from you , walled in black with thousands of tiny glowing lights, one for each life lost. At the far end, a simple ,ordinary light bulb hangs from the ceiling, grudgingly giving its gloomy light. There are inscriptions in that grim script, quotes from great writers and lines copied from camp diaries and letters. Black , glassy diamond shapes in the wall are where recovered ashes have been interred, each annotated, if I remember correctly, with the name of one the notorious camps. I came out shaken. I found out later that the architect had the concrete made from pebbles collected from every region in France and then crushed to make the mortar. I read somewhere that the actual chosen site was deeply symbolic because it was in the very heart of Paris, important, yet hidden, as if in the national sub-conscious, below ground. It seems to be saying let us not wallow is self pity and showy sentiment or invest in grandioise and pious monumentation ; modestly and somberly empathise; understand ; keep this in mind, a warning of what Man is capable of doing to Man . This for me is a great architectural achievement and great art ; the perfect balance of design and purpose, and testament too to the immensely sensitive intelligence that designed it.
johncoxon 2:13 PM - [Link] - Comments ()