(writing about) spontaneous memorials

a teaching module
by Margaret Yocom

Taken in the lobby of One Liberty Plaza - "written" in the dust on the glass block wall.
Cite as: Rachel Johnson, Image #194, The September 11 Digital Archive, 28 March 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/images/details/194> .

"Iwo Jima:WTC" Desktop Wallpaper option saved from Macintosh website, 9/30/01, author unknown.

Ideas for writing:

For examples of spontaneous memorials that can form the texts for these questions, see the following websites:

http://www.citylore.org/cl_exhibits.html (CityLore, site of Dr. Zeitlin and Ms. Cooper, our guest lecturers, 10 April 2002) http://www.citylore.org/cl_exhibits.html

http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/kodak_moments.html (images accompanying a paper on 9/11 by Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett)

"World Trade Center Papers," on Chico's Memorial Wall Avenue A at 14th Street, September 15 , 2001 Photographer: Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
image 2002, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

Fragments and wholes:


Spontaneous memorials, like many other cultural artifacts such as quilts, collages, and possibly poems and stories, represent a a dialogue between fragments and wholes. "Art," as art theorist Lucy Lippard suggests, "recalls that which is absent." A Coca-Cola can, a favorite cigarette, a burnt pink comb (see the U Penn website), a t-shirt, a boot or shoe (see "Firemen" photos on the CityLore website), a teddy bear, a poem, a photograph—all are now standard components of spontaneous memorials. Do memorials, with their use of evocative fragments, attempt
a wholeness that can never be? What does such recycling of pieces signify? Consider any of the images of the spontaneous memorials and discuss this play of fragments and wholes.

The makeshift memorial set up in Union Square, New York City. I took this picture on the morning of September 13, 2001, shortly after the memorial appeared.
Cite as: Sue Luftschein, Image #74, The September 11 Digital Archive, 10 March 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/images/details/74> .

"Making special":


For art theorist Ellen Dissanayake, art is the human behavior of "making special." sugggests all arts do: they "make special." "Our lens is refocused," she explains. "Reality is converted from its usual unremarkable state—in which we take it or its components for granted—to a significant or specially experienced reality in which the components, by their emphasis or combination or juxtaposition, acquire a meta-reality" (What is Art For? 95). "Making special," she suggests, involves the use of repetition, combination or juxtaposition, combination of the unlike, re-contextualization (taking an object out of its usual context and placing it in another), enlargement, miniaturization, metonomy (a part of an object symbolizes the whole object), and highly condensed symbols. Using the concept of "making special," discuss the appearance of one of the spontaneous memorials.

This is the firehouse on 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, on the morning of September 13. People began leaving flowers and messages of thanks almost immediately. I walk by this firehouse every day.
Cite as: Sue Luftschein, Image #78, The September 11 Digital Archive, 10 March 2002, http://911digitalarchive.org/images/details/78

Hallowing space


In his earlier writings on spontaneous memorials and their combination of flowers, poems, candles, and more, Dr. Zeitlin has suggested that what people are doing is "hallowing" —making hallow or sacred—a secular space. How might the construction of a memorial accomplish this "hallowing?"

Chico's mural, Avenue A at 14th St. This is normally a loud, busy intersection, but on this morning (September 13), as people were beginning to gather in front of the mural, the quiet was deafening.
Cite as: Sue Luftschein, Image #77, The September 11 Digital Archive, 10 March 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/images/details/77>.

Your own "making special":


Describe a space in your own home or neighborhood that you or someone else has "made special": an altar, a mantle or shelf that's reserved for particular photographs or mementos, a spontaneous roadside memorial (often constructed to mark the sudden death of a young person in an automobile accident).

Image created by Sean Johnson Andrews for the ://english matters 9/11 exhibit.

Poetry of spontaneous memorials


At the website http://www.peoplespoetry.org you'll see the texts of several writings that have been left at the site of spontaneous memorials. Using the comments of Dr. Zeitlin*, ideas of your own and other questions on this page, discuss these writings that edge toward poetry, these often private thoughts that have been left in public places.

*Also, read these additional comments from Dr. Zeitlin.