SublimAE seminar

The Generative Monument

Informations pratiques
12 juin 2023

ENS, Pavillon jardin, meeting room, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


In this seminar I trace a narrative of development in the aesthetics of monuments from 18th and 19th c. monuments (typically equestrian or portrait statues) ; to largely abstract “alter-monuments” (Bru, 2021) of the classical avant-gardes (in the early 20th c.) ; through “counter-monuments” (Young, 1992) of the post WW II era, to what I see as the contemporary vanguard of monumental forms, what I call “the generative monument.” I will focus on the most exemplary case of which I am aware, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Inaugurated in 2018, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice aims to document and commemorate the more than 4,400 African-American victims of racial terror lynchings from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1950. Designed by the MASS Design Group in partnership with a private non-profit group called the “Equal Justice Initiative” (EJI), the memorial utilizes innovative formal means and sublime codes in order not just to document, to overwhelm visitors, and to commemorate, but also to generate concrete action aimed to address unjust racial inequalities in U.S. society today. 

My thesis is that the generative monument constitutes a novel synthesis of (1) the traditional past-looking aims and aesthetic codes of monuments, and (2) the future-looking, utopian aims of “alter monuments” of the classic avant-garde of the early 20th c. In this way, the generative monument is unlike the counter-monuments of the 1980s-90s—e.g. the 1986 Monument Against Fascism by Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochem Gerz—which strove to commemorate while systematically eschewing monumentality. The monumental and generative nature of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice represents a culmination of a narrative of monument development that deserves attention both aesthetically and politically, as a subtle but powerful transformation of extant forms of public, commemorative art. 

SublimAE (the Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences) seminar, in connection with SublimAE ANR project, will focus on the interdisciplinary study of Aesthetic Experiences with an eye to the sublime by bringing together philosophy, psychology, and social sciences. We will explore, on the one hand, how the experience of the sublime connects to other similar or contrast experiences (the beautiful, terrible beauty, awe, wonder, the uncanny, …), and, on the other hand, the impact these experiences, and more specifically aesthetic ones, have on our representation of the self. The seminar will feature presentations by members of the project, as well as by invited speakers.

Venue : Institut Jean Nicod meeting room

Contact : Margherita ArcangeliJérôme Dokic

For the full programme click here.