11.30 Citizenship: Occupying Otherness
Unaddressed national histories of perpetration produce hidden narratives, likely to live under the surface, festering as open wounds, only to compromise the true vitality of any nation for years to come. Memorials provide historic perspective and seek to restore a sense of hope to nations carrying histories of perpetration.
“Public Acts of Remembrance” details my experience of establishing a memorial project with a nation that murdered my grandparents. In 2007, I reclaimed my Austrian citizenship, and in 2009, I set about designing a temporary, social action, multi-media memorial project to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed into Greater Germany. I begin a discussion of “The Vienna Project” by identifying various challenges, followed by a short video, and concluding with recommendations for enhancing innovative practices of memorialization. “The Vienna Project” represented an inclusive model of public memory. An inclusive memorial appealed to large numbers of Austrian historians eager to address lapses of representation, regarding different minority groups persecuted under National Socialism. Cultural differences regarding the term “inclusion” slowly surfaced, polarizing team members. As an American steeped in public discourse regarding ideas about difference, inclusion came with an acknowledgement of difference. For Austrians, “difference” was a death sentence under National Socialism, a toxic idea that had no place within a memorial project. As director, I was committed to creating a responsible memorial project that complied with the historic record regarding categorization of the different victim groups. I rejected the idea of a revisionist memorial based on selective memory that privileged one group of victims over another. Resolving these two positions sat at the center of the project’s design.
Obstacles concerning language differences, which had the effect of delegitimizing my voice, funding shortages, and conflicting ideas about activism and issues of compensation, further complicated the project team’s progress. After a great deal of personal effort, the project gained government endorsement, which came with much needed funding. At its conclusion, public audiences perceived “The Vienna Project” as an inclusive expression of memory. Deemed an overwhelming success, the project changed the culture of memory in Vienna while creating a flexible framework for thinking about difference. Developed as an interdisciplinary project, the work combined history with street art, performance art, video, digital technologies, and Holocaust education. It also highlighted several theoretical frameworks: enduring performance, feminist art, critical theory, and relational aesthetics. Numerous entry points engaged diverse audiences comprised of Austrians and immigrant communities. Many of these minority groups were persecuted under National Socialism, and remain marginalized within Austria’s present-day mainstream culture. “The Vienna Project” broke new ground as the first memorial in Europe to remember multiple victim groups at once, in a differentiated format. The project was the first memorial in Austria to memorialize Austrian Roma and Sinti victims, Austrian homosexual victims, and Austrian Jehovah Witness victims. The project put forth a new national narrative about Austrians murdering Austrians holding a minority status, and signified momentous gains regarding minority representation in Austria.
I will close my discussion with recommendations regarding practices of memorialization. Historians and architects have a long and productive history of working together. In recent years, a new formulaic structure has separated these two disciplines. Major memorials such as Berlin’s “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” and New York’s “911 Memorial” combine an iconic structure or environment with an underground museum, displaying archival information. Paralleling these practices, many conferences dealing with memory tend separate presentations about memorials from panels about history and conflict resolution. Panels devoted to examples of memorialization tend to be descriptive, typically comparing memorials from different regions that capture different kinds of conflict. History panels on the other hand, tend to be more conceptual, often focused on outcomes. By developing conference panels that integrate the two disciplines, new and promising patterns for collaboration are more likely to emerge. On another front, major memorials carry large budgets while smaller, more experimental initiatives come with smaller budgets, generally lacking the possibility for international funding. These under-budgeted projects limit inventive forms of collaboration, which in turn, limits a vision of what is possible through the art of memorialization. Memory is a personal and lively enterprise that resists regulation. By supporting diverse practices, we can retain the power of memory to heal different groups while sustaining new ideas about public engagement and global citizenship, alongside progressive notions of collective responsibility.