6PlaceToronto: Memorial Design & Empathetic Engagement
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Room 200 (Mediatheque)
1 Spadina Cres
Talk by Anita Bakshi
Instructor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Rutgers University.
It is the political imperative of art to confront difficult aspects of the past, in order to transform the aesthetics of the medium itself, and, more importantly, to transform thought. This assertion gets to the core of why commemorative and cultural heritage sites require the development of richer design practices. The abstract visual and design languages often used at monuments and memorials employ conservative aesthetic approaches which have conservative political implications. As such, they often do not enable confrontation or transformation. Rather, this is an art that is more suited to supporting and affirming existing thoughts and beliefs. In this talk, I argue that a new poetics of commemoration can be sought by working with non-visual aspects of design and with an understanding of cognition and perception. I explore different modes of engagement with memory and the varying forms they might take.
Formal design elements and materials often used at monuments and memorials – reflecting pools, waterfalls, manicured lawns, and formal tree plantings – are contrasted with other design strategies and processes. Smooth, shiny, reflective materials are fixed and unyielding, implying closure, finality, and the so-called “healing” of trauma. Instead, utilizing materials that invite touch and engagement, and that embrace visitors with smells and sounds and atmospheric enclosure, can enhance bodily engagement with memory. I explore how design strategies can enhance empathic engagement, and allow for ‘seeing through’ the body. Rather than statue removal and additive history, I argue for the development of hybrid design practices and strategies that support dynamic and flexible engagements with the past, using several examples to illuminate these possibilities.