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In a recent popular survey of American architecture, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) ranked number 10, beating out the Washington Monument, which was ranked 12. The memorial, both its physical form and the emotional response it generates, has been etched in the national collective consciousness. Even the back-story surrounding the memorial’s creation—from the design entry of an Asian-American female Yale undergraduate, to the controversy surrounding both design and designer, to the eventual compromise with flagpoles and representational statues— has become part of a familiar metanarrative that has affected all subsequent attempts at memorial creation. The normal trajectory of war memorialization (the physical act of commemoration) is from the local, to the state, to the national level, with the national recognition often coming years after the event being commemorated (note the WWII memorial dedicated in 2004, over a half-century after the armistice). In the case of the The Wall, this trajectory [sequence] was reversed, with the 1982 dedication, attended by over 200,000 veterans, kicking off an impulse to “bring it home.”1 This impulse, meant on the one hand as a metaphor for the healing and recognition the Wall had initiated, manifested itself on the other in various physical forms, including a traveling version of the Wall which is still on the road today, a Florida ‘facsimile’ (The Wall South), and various state and local memorials, many of which were initiated by those who had been at the dedication. These derivative memorials offer insight into the commemorative functions of the original. The Wall was national memorial aspiring to be local,
in commemorating the warrior (as opposed to celebrating the war). and Maya Lin delivered a design that met it brilliantly. The controversial nature of the war. Instead of attempting to create a definitive narrative. dark.attempting to establish a personal connection with the visitor much like a typical memorial situated in the town square. often leaving items at its base as part of a codified ritual. which was actually not an innovation of Lin but rather a requirement of the competition brief. much as the Vietnam War had represented a sharp shift in the nature of American military engagement. This was the genius of including the names. The Wall was radically different from previous national memorials in its form—low. As Scafidi writes. created a requirement for a different type of memorial. one of the almost . cultural products “provide a starting point for recognition of the source community as well as a means of allowing outsiders a degree of participation in and appreciation of that community. The Wall reflected a dramatic shift in the nature of war commemoration in this country. The role of the national memorial in the process was “to heal a nation” (as Jan Scruggs would later title his book about the effort) through recognition. even indirectly. Most importantly. not the end goal of one. Individuals who visit the memorial see themselves reflected in its highly polished face as they descend toward the center and reemerged. the Wall was conceived as a part of a process.”2 The low barrier to entry for outsiders to personally relate to the Wall— one need only to have known. and brooding— and in its studied avoidance of war celebration and pietistic national motifs. even among the soldiers who served in it (the “source community.” in the terminology of Susan Scafidi). the sponsors of the memorial recognized this in their program. the memorial introduced the concept of purposeful ambiguity—allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of the sacrifice made by those named.
meaning the VVMF had ultimate control over the dissemination of the memorial. which debuted in Tyler. Texas in 1984. an Army helicopter gunner who was part of the 1968 Tet offensive. which I would describe as a physical object that is intertwined with “cultural products.60. the group that sponsored the D. Wall). returned home in 1969 with a simple strategy for dealing with the war: “Forget about it.000 names listed—allowed the memorial to cast a wide emotional net. while not officially sanctioned by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF. she ceded her right to the intellectual property. Because Maya Lin had contributed her design as part of a competition. a half-scale plexiglass replica. John Devitt.” These cultural products she terms “‘accidental’ property” since they are typically developed without any intention of ownership or commodification. used the same photographic negatives by permission.”3 This strategy was aided by fellow veterans and a nation that wanted to do the same.” Scafidi uses the term “cultural products” to describe the “intangible creations of a cultural group. Devitt produced the original Moving Wall. he returned home to San Jose. If the national memorial was the set-up. local memorials were inevitably the follow-through [elaborate]. In 1982 friends and family bought Devitt a ticket to D. The Moving Wall. coupled with the immediate success of the Wall among veterans. the cost of lettersetting the names would have been prohibitive. With the help of a local Vietnam Veteran-owned screen printing shop.C. meant that the Wall was transformed from a piece of intellectual property into a cultural object. Minus these negatives. This legal passing of authorial authority.C. so that he could attend the dedication. According to Scafidi: . California with the conviction to build a traveling version of The Wall.
As such. Instead. nor are they destined for sale to tourists. or interaction with the majority public do cultural products take on the characteristics of property. owned by the Vietnam veterans. authentic cultural products are intrinsic to quotidian activities and celebratory occasions within the source community. attempts at organization or standardization. shared experiences. the source community had barely existed. The impulse to “bring home The Wall” can be seen as localized within the narrative of tourism. The emotional performances.” I would argue that in the case of The Wall. certainly as observers.“Cultural products originate and exist outside the marketplace. while not intended for outsiders. if not as participants as well. They are not intended as performances for outsiders. The cultural product. the tourists were not necessarily outsiders. the process Scafidi describes happened simultaneously (and spontaneously). And in this case. and value systems that bind the community together. with the Moving Wall and other derivative memorials seen as “souvenirs” from The Wall. in this case. The . The dedication of The Wall meant that it immediately became both cultural object and cultural product.” if one considers the marketplace to be defined by the extensive media coverage that the dedication precipitated. Vietnam Veterans had been forced and/or had forced themselves underground. in this case the emotional response evoked by the The Wall. Only through the passage of time. they instantiate the internal dynamics. more often than not they were the veterans themselves. Whereas cultural products were typically co-developed in an iterative manner from a pre-existing source community. was almost immediately situated in the “marketplace. at least for a time. were immediately accessible to them. meaning they had almost no collective identity (although they did have innumerable shared experiences).
for Lin the 125 degrees was not arbitrary. When you tell people you want to build a half-scale replica. and on the other to the Lincoln . were not designed to taper in the same manner. the 125 degrees of Maya Lin’s original design were typically maintained. Devitt was conscious of how the Moving Wall would relate to the D. they don’t realize the power of Maya Lin’s design. he could have as easily said that. so that at the extents large amounts of blank space sit above and below the diminished lines of text. The panels. Whereas in the latter case one descends into the memorial. not just to the form of commemoration it embodied.” and the transaction of souvenirs often involves an act of sharing as well. If he thought that the power of the Moving Wall were just in the names etched on the panels. In most cases. In some cases. The original Moving Wall was replaced only a few years later by a version made of black anodized aluminum. Of course. Devitt indicates his debt to the original object. For practical reasons.C.C. as The Wall pointed on the one hand toward the Washington Monument. while mimicking the layout of Lin’s wall. Lin had conceived of her memorial as “a rift in the earth.word comes from the French meaning “an act of remembering. in the case of the Moving Wall the memorial ascends as the viewer moves toward the center. they think miniature and model. Although it would have been easy enough to hinge the “arms” of the Moving Wall at any angle. and. There are currently two copies traveling. the Moving Wall differed from the D.” which was only possible only with a permanent installation where excavation was a possibility. version in its architecturalization. with additional copies produced in subsequent years. with a third held in storage in case of a booking conflict. the souvenir is viewed as inferior to the original object.”4 In this statement. version: “The Wall is a visual thing. the transaction of souvenirs is the result of tourist guilt that results from having had an “extraordinary” experience.
with all of its metaphoric relevance. Many of those who served in Vietnam came from blue-collar backgrounds and returned from the war to work in factory or construction jobs (if they were able to work at all). a foundation for collective identity was left behind. using techniques (framing) and materials (wood studs) that are familiar to any residential contractor or home improvement aficionado. Architecture easily fell victim to the dominance of iconography. It is difficult to envision the Wall in this latter configuration. The official handbook for the Moving Wall indicates that the arms should be spread no wider than 125 degrees. Lin considered her design to be “super site-specific” and could never have envisioned that it would travel the country. the only technical requirement was that a metal stake (normally used for concrete foundation work) could be put in the ground. the actual movement of the Moving Wall is part of the memorial. Whereas the site of Lin’s Wall was the Mall in Washington. The . Without extending the cementious metaphor too far. it can be said that once the “formwork” of the memorial was removed. Almost any site—from a parking lot to a high school to the front of a state capitol—was fair game. Perhaps what the Moving Wall lacked in site specificity. but can be brought as close as 90 degrees to allow for a smaller site to be utilized. The Moving Wall is designed to be simply assembled and disassembled. on some level it is similar to the humble formwork bolted together to produce a foundation. There is nothing pretentious about the Moving Wall. In fact. Likewise. it made up for in the range of backdrops that were provided to it. the integrity of her design was not. the site of the Moving Wall was America itself. the assembly logic and labor of the Moving Wall could be said to be part of the memorial itself. visiting 50-60 cities each year. and the latitude indicates that while Lin’s design was seen as critical (as Devitt’s statement suggests).Memorial.
”5 A close reading of Devitt’s statement is telling in this case. mimesis plays an important role in our understanding of the derivative memorials and the emotional response their physical forms are intended to elicit. This organization. which consists of many Vietnam veterans. “Basically” indicates both sameness and difference that suggests the experience of the Moving Wall cannot be certified authentic. the memorials based on The Wall have dual referents: The Wall itself and the individuals for which the names serve a metonymic function.” accusing it of being just a simulacra (“something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing. it’s what happens at the wall in Washington. on another it makes them more powerful because they are operating not just as pure commemorative objects but as cultural objects situated in relation to a larger national narrative. Not all are convinced that the Moving Wall succeeds in eliciting the “whole emotional spectrum. John Devitt has said. While on one level this makes them further removed from what is actually being commemorated. many of whom are Patriot Guard Riders. lacking the weight and permanence of the original (not to mention the 90˚ 125˚ . The question of authenticity relates to the dual functions of the original Wall. considers escorting the Moving Wall to be a “Special Mission. without possessing its substance or proper qualities”). Some see the Moving Wall as pure stagecraft. in the derivative works we can analyze authenticity vis a vis both object and emotion. “Basically.trailer carrying the panels is typically escorted by state troopers and often also by local citizens on motorcycles.” Speaking about the reactions of those who come to the Moving Wall. D. As derivative works. both as a physical artifact and as an emotional prompt. while “played out” indicates a pre-conditioned notion of what is supposed to happen at the Wall. You just see the whole emotional spectrum played out. a propped up set that.C. Indeed.
Both were foldup traveling shows. As Robert Solomon writes. awkwardly orthogonal. “Kitsch is art (whether or not it is good art) that is deliberately designed to move us. In Bristol. The Moving Wall. Traces of the Moving Wall were often left behind..”7 Stripped of its artistic integrity in the form of derivative memorials. in the 501(c)3 organizations that were formed to bring it to town. In that vein.. in the websites created to publicize the visit. a visit to the memorial was certainly as much about touching the names and leaving behind objects as it was about experiencing the “architecture. or in physical remembrances. named very much in a literal vain but productively misread (“moving” in the emotional sense). was built a memorial to the memorial.metaphoric placement on the Mall in Washington). within a Veterans’ park. Connecticut. A brick path. Maya Lin’s design had very quickly resulted in cultural conditioning.”6 This escape from reality bring us back to the reading of the derivative memorials as souvenirs. the emotional aspects of The Wall eclipsed its physical form. by presenting a well-selected and perhaps much-edited version of some particularly and predictably moving aspect of our shared experience.. both were occasions for human beings temporarily to escape from the reality of our actual lives in the world. But more importantly. attempts to mimic the long arms. even if the integrity of the architectural design was perhaps critical in establishing the reputation of the referent. can certainly be analyzed through the lens of kitsch.” And indeed what we see in many of these derivative memorials that architecture is the first thing to go. while at the vertex of the temporary memorial’s . cannot approach its capacity for an “authentic” experience. Lin’s memorial became packaged emotion. situated with a tourism discourse. One commentator compared the Moving Wall to the fall carnival that came to town at the same time: “I was struck by the comparison.
1998. Florida. Wall?) was built. a Marine who returned from Vietnam in 1971 and the founder of the group that created The Wall South. he felt the impulse to “keep it here. The Wall South is a hybrid of the Moving Wall and the “Wall North”. in the form of the Huey helicopter that sits behind the wall (a symbol of escape). a reference to a reference to a reference. While substantively similar to The Wall (North).site sits a “tombstone” which reads.” At that point.C.” a interesting play on the original impulse to “bring it home. rather than the jet-black Indian granite used in D. meant to reference the specific experience of the Moving Wall while drawing on the power of the original. August 11th – 18th. This example is a true souvenir. “On this site stood the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall. the builders of the memorial chose to berm up behind the stone panels as well. Lenny Collins.C.” Although it would likely have been feasible to set the memorial completely below grade. The Wall South is built from a greyveined domestic granite. the creation of the Pensacola memorial allowed those involved to feel a sense of “finishing” what they had started in Vietnam: “Wall South shows that if you put a handful of Vietnam veterans together. The most significant trace can be found in Pensacola. where a permanent version of the Moving Wall (or is it a half-scale permanent version of the D. with a bit of local flavor sprinkled in as well. they can do things that no . The Wall South claims to be the only Vietnam memorial outside of Washington to include the names of all veterans killed in action. According to Lenny Collins. “routinely wrote ‘None’ in the block that asked about military service. the Wall was given the permanent name The Wall South. No longer moving. the memorial is three steps removed. one of the veterans who led the effort to recreate the Wall in Florida.8 When he saw the Moving Wall.” no longer wanting it to be a part of his life.
The Franklin Mint offers commemorative versions of both the Frederick Hart statue (offered as the representational compromise) and the Maya Lin wall. Connecticut (perhaps due to some name-based affinity). etc. In case a potential buyer is unable to scrutinize the low-res image on the website.” Recognizing that perhaps a 10-inch version of the Wall lacks the ability to elicit a true emotional response.one thought was possible. communities looking to build a Vietnam memorial were forced to confront similar issues. of representational versus abstract. As are the emotions of the family. but in most cases the Lin design served as the antecedent. The Wall in its form provided basic iconography that could easily be replicated. thankfully has a “mirrorlike surface” that “recalls the reflections that make a visit to The Wall such an involving experience. the Mint indicates that “The names are real. The mini-Wall. irony are sculpted by Hart himself. Wall South is proof that Vietnam veterans have the power to overcome any adversity—just like we had the power and the will to win in Vietnam. if not blatantly offensive.”10 In this statement we are presented with the dual-identity and dual-authenticity of the Wall. minus tax). A “nonstandard series. many of which contained reflective black marble (in some cases . A replica of the Hart statue was erected in Hartford. the Mint provides miniature figures. who in an incredible.”9 This narrative of accomplishment was seen in conjunction with many of the other memorial projects. was created through the memorials that were erected at the state and local level. for a combined price of $690. while not made from actual granite. Just as consumers at the Franklin Mint website are forced to choose between Hart or Lin (or purchase both.” describing a set of objects that are clearly related but each different. if we had been left alone to get the job done. The names and the emotions are what are at stake.
she perhaps most significantly succeeded in providing a memorial algorithm that could be used to create imitations. that the healing begun by the Wall had already occurred. in other words. By tapping into the iconography of the Wall. Where Lin intended to create an object with great specificity.from the same quarry as the Wall) or some interpretation of the chevron form. “The wall itself proved to be a powerful symbol that was incorporated into many of the memorial designs. who then fed these thoughts and . an algorithmic imprint lets outward and visible forms change and morph from one item to the next in a series. As Mario Carpo indicates. Local memorial builders did not view Maya Lin’s design as a sacred single unit and instead felt free to choose and use the aspects that were deemed to be strongest. just as the negative feelings toward veterans had caused a downward spiral.”11 As a 1986 survey of Vietnam memorials nationwide observed. local memorial builders were guaranteed immediate visual recognition for their designs. But in many cases. This healing was best achieved by side-stepping the larger issues of the war and focusing on the warrior by drawing on vernacular themes. extending the healing process to the local level. Society’s attitude toward the Vietnam veteran was inseparable from the veterans’ attitude toward themselves. which physically stamps the same form onto things. an equally important aspect in creating memorials was localizing the symbolic aspect of the Wall.”12 Having weathered the controversy surrounding its design. positive thoughts and actions from the public affected the veterans. Therefore. the Wall was also a recognizable material icon. “Unlike a mechanical imprint. Because of extensive media coverage. the Wall became an acceptable way to deliver the message of healing with less potential risk than starting anew. Local memorials were thus seen as a tangible example that Vietnam veterans had been “reintegrated” into a community.
As described in detail above. many states. I was there’. and to pay homage to the people they served with during the war. Secondly. to draw on the supposed “authenticity” of emotion to justify derivative memorials that. much of our identity is based around acquisition. In going beyond simple memories of the past.actions back to the public. citizens. and municipalities instead used the narrative of healing and reconciliation established by the national memorial to create their own local homage to the sacrifice of the veterans. ‘Yes. First. and the healing they both indicated and fostered: Two important things happen when a community works together to erect a monument to its Vietnam veterans. the veterans themselves are able to say. In the process of surveying hundreds of memorials from around the country. counties. and the nation.13 As Scafidi points out. at the same time as they have been written into a larger narrative themselves. The success of the Wall made it safe to build Vietnam veterans memorials around the country. these memorials have created new stories for veterans. not memorials.” it is people that remember. By focusing on the service and sacrifice of veterans. This was certainly the case for Vietnam veterans. were anything by authentic. from the perspective of artistic integrity. Although we say that memorials are built “to remember. . in our consumer culture. for whom the “acquisition” of a local memorial allowed for a feeling of recognition that did not exist previously. local memorials have attempted to write or rewrite the narrative of the war. an avenue is finally opened to the public to express the respect and honor that they have felt for those amongst them who answered their country’s call under the most difficult of circumstances. Sandra and Jerry Strait observed the mechanisms of these feedback loops. to receive the recognition and gratitude of their peers that went unsaid for so many years.
Only in commemorating the Vietnam War has the personal become so public.” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland.space. 15 The Project on the Vietnam Generation. 2005. told the VVA Veteran magazine.” http://grunt. 1986). how in the world could they create a meaningful virtual version? As I approached the virtual wall. Vietnam War Memorials: An Illustrated Reference to Veteran’s Tributes Throughout the United States (Jefferson. 13. “Nonstandard Morality: Digital Technology and Its Discontents.edu/collins.. 13 Jerry Strait and Sandra Strait. commemoration has always functioned at a very personal level.” 135. I’ll never forget the effect the real memorial had on me as I saw myself in the wall as I read the names. 2. I was comparing my SL experience to my memory of my real life visit.org/docs/stegmair.: McFarland & Co. Architecture between Spectacle and Use (New Haven: Yale University Press. 85.htm. 1988). “Moving places: a comment on the traveling Vietnam Memorial. In my mind. p 8. 3 Karen Sandstrom. No. former president of the Lake George. “Moving Wall Becomes Vet’s Life Work. San Jose Mercury News. 17 Ibid.com/photos/glsims99/2383796569/ . “The Last Full Measure of Devotion. 4 Gerry Stegmaier. 20.. New York chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.C. Solomon. which I found just yesterday.) 2 Scafidi. May 20. 1990 6 Ronald L. 138. I’ve been to the real life memorial and thought to myself.htm. One last observation. “On Kitsch and Sentimentality.com/product1.On the one hand. I won’t go in to more detail here. 1990. 2. Ohio).19 1 Ned Foote. as individuals have always remembered their losses. “I visited the Virtual Vietnam War Memorial in Second Life the other day. Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. Gennari. I felt a deep sense of loss. but suffice it to say. 2008): xx-xx 12 The Project on the Vietnam Generation. 19 http://flickr. that I was truly moved by this SL experience. 14 The group responsible for building the Wall. New Brunswick. who writes. “The Name Behind Wall South.” (Marc Leepson. 7 Solomon.” VVA Veteran (March 1994). 2001. “The Building of the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. Hall.” in Anthony Vidler. N. One thing I noticed immediately was that my reflection was not apparent in this virtual version. These are the words of “glsims99”. Robert.franklinmint. Life juxtaposed against death. 4. “I came back dedicated to putting up a memorial to our area service people. Report on the Survey of State and Local Vietnam Veterans Memorials Nationwide (Washington: Center for the Study of the Vietnam Generation. 14. Vol. 18 Ibid. 454.” Philosophy & Geography.swri. 141.” http://www.aspx?SID=2&Product_ID=9292 11 Mario Carpo. 5 Michael Oricchio. “The Moving Wall. 1. 10 http://www. 9 Giberson. Susan. USA: Rutgers University Press. 16 Christopher A.themovingwall.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (Winter 1991): 1-14. NJ. 8 Art Giberson. ed. July 16.
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