On building memories and personal legacies vol. I: the context

A few days ago I was in Barcelona attending Triàlegs, in El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria. Ciutat i Memòria (city and memory, in Catalan) was the ambitious title of the almost three days congress. Here the program, which took me about 15 minutes to find, since it is not linked on the page of the institution which promoted it nor on the one that hosted it. Miracles of the XXI century.

The leitmotiv of all sessions was that the duty to remember exists and must be performed, and among historians, urbanists, philosophers and artists, only a few person were challenging the idea of memory as we generally have inherited it, an intagible entity that must be preserved.

To me it was surreal at moments, because the echo these words created was clashing against the environment. Memory as a univoque, monolithic thing is a very tangible element within El Born, an archeological area cointaining the rests of a urban area of XVIII century Barcelona that got destroyed in the War of Spanish Succession. The area itself generated a debate on how (and if) to preserve it that lasted for years and still is unresolved.. Yet, the conflict that this area caused was suppressed by all the speeches. Nobody addressed where we were although there we were. And the act of building memory, a performative retroactive action, was also only tangentially addressed. I was hoping for much more debate or constrasting experiences but none I got.

While listening to the speech of a representant of the local government in charge of Memory, I realized once again how often politics lacks humilty and tends to oversee details. Memory was described as a civic right towards which local politics is oriented, and it was with pride that it was said that in open public and for the joy of the citizens certain statues or monuments were tore apart or dismanteled. For me it was disturbing to hear it. The apology of Damnatio memoriae, or the elegy of power.

The need for building such discourses scares me. This manichean opposition between Memory and left (and Republic, and even Independence) against Oblivion and right is simple and dissatisfying. And dangerous.

It made seem obvious that it was possible to own memory and the right to impose it as such. The old link between memory and power was there openly displayed.

Who has the right to remove what? How do we build consensus?

In an interesting interview to a few of the speakers of the congress by a local broadcaster, professor Patrizia Dogliani said something in regard to this: collective (=public, as always in this context) memory is not easily achieved: it requires compromise, it must be democratic and must exclude antidemocratic elements / facts. She also adds something extremely relevant: monuments, due to their nature, one that makes them stand as embodiment of everlasting values, should not be relevant and should /can be removed. The conversation on facts, collective memory should take place in museums, lectures, arenas of debate.

This antithetical description of Monuments as static elements that unable the discussion and Museums as dynamics places in which the discussion takes place, is very relevant, as I believe this not to be at all evident to people / citizens / visitors.

Over those same days, a very animated debate on a special monument was taking place in my hometown. Pesaro was the eastern limit of the Gothic line, the defensive line the Germans built in the last months of World war II. As in many Italian and european cities the dreadful memory of those years was remembered visually with street names, plaques and monuments. While I was in Barcelona, some citizens (the vast majority above 60) were organizing themselves as local / civic movement to prevent the mayor to remove the big monument remembering the local resistance.

This event was extremely useful in adding another layer of complexity to the already very tangled relation between heritage and memory, one that I tend to consider less: that of age. And since that place has not really played an important role in the city life lately, the whole story was for me also very important in showing the strategic importance of grief in this specific frame alignment.

I will go further into this Italian story into my next post.

p.s.: The best interventions in my opinion have been those of Ana María Rabe, who brought Latin America right in to the room and shut us iup in 5 minutes describing the invention of heritage and memory in Medellín, and the dialogue between Xavier Ribas and Carles Guerra, because it was pure poetry, an empathic conversation. Check Ribas’ Invisible structure 1 & 2!

Pic: the roof of El Born, summer 2017, by me

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