Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gramsci Monument: an attempt at unity

Heroine. That was the topic of one poem by visiting artist Tracie Morris. "Some of you might be familiar with this," she said. In front of me, an older black woman paused from crocheting a colorful flower to look up and say, "yep."

Tracie Morris was part of the Gramsci Monument's visiting lecture series, which took place on a ramshackle stage made of plywood and tarp amidst the Bronx Forest Houses. Like the residents there, Morris also grew up in public housing. She is now a professor of poetry and a published poet. She has developed an energetic, improvisational style that infuses slam poetry with her body as an instrument, and she beats on her chest while she speaks in syncopated rhythms.

For me, Morris was the most redemptive aspect of visiting the Monument. During her performance, I felt that the whole audience was enraptured by her rhythm and her innovation, and I may never have learned of her otherwise. But the rest of the Monument was more obtuse and unreachable for me: the library housed an intimidating collection of communist literature, the radio station seemed uninviting and off-limits, and the food stand didn’t have a single meat-free option for a vegetarian like me. The German philosopher who followed Morris on the stage was cold and monotone, and I feared sometimes that the stage would fall out from underneath us. Regardless, the Forest Houses community seemed to be in favor of the monument, which is what really matters in the end.

(revised 10.3.13)


  1. Your writing is very poetic and definitely brings the feel and atmosphere of the visit to the monument. I feel like the review does not say much about the Gramci Monument itself though. If I have not seen it, I feel like I would have no idea what you are describing and what this project looks like. I would address some specific successes of the project and why it created such an atmosphere. The fact that the project was put together by the community and Thomas Hirschhorn I feel is a very important element and perhaps the reason it made you first feel like you are invading- after all it is basically their creation in their back yard.

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  3. I agree with Anna that your review would be more powerful if prefaced with an introduction of descriptors. The style of writing is very approachable though, which I think is important when trying to elicit the interest of the general public, but it's also very fitting to the monument itself and matched what it's about. Readers might feel slightly at ease about their own feelings if they read your comment about feeling awkward or unsure upon entering into the space - I think that's a common issue and something really worth a discussion. With an art project as expansive as this, I think it's important to also focus on the details, which I think your review did very nicely. There was a lot to notice in those small, quiet moments.

    1. Anna and Jes, I understand both of your arguments. But after reading several essays about the piece before viewing it, and then reading our classes' responses to the installation, I noticed that most reviews detail the same sort of specific information including installation, history, content of the piece, etc. I wanted to write a response that would give the reader a new and different perspective from the many specific articles about the piece. Why write the same information multiple times when I could instead reveal my personal experience? After all, an interactive installation should be about experience and participation.

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  5. I appreciate your pointing out of uselessness in narrating the same facts over. Your review was definitely more subjective and carried a straight forward criticism. I did not get a sense of the overall outline of the exhibition, but I was able to interpret what you felt reluctant of. However, I think it will tighten your review even stronger if you could give more hints on the overall description of the show, then made your point. Maybe an intention of the artist for building radio stations, libraries, education center, and food stand. How did these places serve to viewers and to the residents of the Forest House? If you felt intimidating and uninviting, do you think it was a failure of the artist for the attempt? Maybe an explanation of the artist putting connection between Gramsci and the residents in Forest House could further help the reader to understand what artist tried to convey from this work.