Saturday, April 24, 2010

Performing Memorials: Are We Ready?

Thinking about memorials, I keep going back to the memorial in the street performed by Rebecca Belmore, “The Named and the Unnamed”. This is the memorial where the woman washed the streets, screamed the names of the missing persons from the Vancouver East Side, nailed her dress to the telephone post, and ripped the heads off roses with her teeth. Unlike memorials in parks that commemorate people discreetly on a rock or a wall that blends in with the background, Belmore commands the attention of passersby. She would have been impossible to ignore, for she stood her ground and screamed the names of the missing peoples. This type of memorializing got me questioning the purpose of public memorials. Is the main purpose to create awareness and command attention? Or is a memorial most importantly meant to function as a sign of respect and acknowledgement for those chose to do so? Although I think Belmore’s technique is a creative and unique way to memorialize people, I am not quite sure Vancouver is ready for this type of memorial. The city seems most comfortable with discreet memorials that won’t make waves or distract people too much from their everyday lives. It seems that this city is more focused on forgetting, and moving on, rather than staying in the moment and remembering. This is why I think the memorials around the lower mainland tend to function as background props in parks and gardens. A memorial such as Belmore’s would command full attention and seriousness, a break from the everyday life of naiveté to the reality of the terrible things that take place in the city we live in. Belmore’s performance would also in a sense be a great risk. If people did not understand the sincerity of the performance, or chose not to respect it, they might act out in a way that would greatly disrespect both the performer, and the people trying to pay their respects. I personally do not think Vancouver is ready for this type of memorializing. In order for this type of memorial to be effective in a Vancouver urban space, the city would have to shift its focus from forgetting, towards remembering. It would have to be a collective shift in attitudes, and therefore allow the respect and sincerity this type of performance requires. However, with that said, perhaps these types of performances could change the way Vancouver conceptualizes memorials. In “Performance and the City”, Solga, Hokins and Orr state that, “performance can help to renegotiate the urban archive, to build the city and to change it” (6). Instead of waiting for the city to shift and be ready for performed memorials, perhaps these types of memorials will be the shift that changes the city.

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