This is entry #68 in our 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.
Philosopher: C. Thi Nguyen, Utah Valley University
Artwork: Monument Against Fascism, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz, 1986. As Neo-Fascism was on the rise in the city, the Municipal Council of Hamburg-Harburg commissioned this monument: a 12 meter tall steel column, clad in lead. The monument invited visitors to sign it by engraving, hammering, and pounding into its sides. The column was slowly lowered into the ground over eight years, until, in October 1993, it disappeared entirely. It gathered over 70,000 signatures. Now only the top surface of the column is visible, flush with the ground.
The column was accompanied by this text: “We invite the citizens of Harburg, and visitors to the town, to add their names here next to ours. In doing so we commit ourselves to remain vigilant. As more and more names cover this 12-metre tall lead column, it will gradually be lowered into the ground. One day it will have disappeared completely, and the site of the Harburg Monument against Fascism will be empty. In the end it is only we ourselves who can stand up against injustice.”
(photos courtesy of Esther Shalev-Gerz)
Words: What more is there to say? Every time I see these pictures and read that text, I almost cry. It is unbearably potent. Why is it so important that the monument disappear? Why is it so important that it start so bold and tall? The text says it is a call to action. The Gerzes said it was a counter-monument, against the fascistic tendencies inherent in all monuments. It refuses to honor. James Young says by vanishing, it remembers a vanished people. But there’s something more. To stand there, with that great column and all those signatures buried beneath you…