Memorial sites are bitter-sweet. Using art, usually the beautiful or elegant kind, to commemorate a spot in which people were murdered or otherwise experienced some other unsavory deeds, is not a job for the faint of heart. Memorializing a mass-murder of mostly children is guaranteed to spark contention, if only because there is no right way to do this sort of thing. Art is a language that speaks to each of us, but it’s not always the same message. When it comes to remembering victims the ‘right way’, there’s a lot of opinions that come with it.
Swedish landscape artist Jonas Dahlber has been selected to create a piece of work memorializing the horrific mass-murder of 69 people, mostly teenagers, on the island of Utoeya in Norway and is facing some stark criticism for his concept: carving a three-and-half meter wide slit through a small peninsula facing the island of Utoeya, called Memory Wound, and symbolizing the ‘wound’ left from that day in 2011. The names of the victims would be engraved into one side of the peninsula, and an observation gallery will face it from the other side.
A bit on-the-nose…
“It’s a bit hard to accept that we’ll be reminded of (the massacre of) July 22 every day for the rest of our lives,” said local Ole Morten Jensen. “I don’t need those kinds of reminders. I had enough of them already,”
Well. The idea certainly projects loss, though I can see why the constant reminder literally carved into the landscape could be problematic, particularly for families. For instance, there is no hope in a memorial like this. Slicing into the landscape a gigantic gash that will never close is, frankly, pretty macabre. I can sympathize with those who don’t want a constant reminder of gruesome death obscuring the sunset on a summer’s night. It’s literally a hole that can never be filled.
That all being said, being reminded of our transgressions isn’t always a bad thing. Remembering the horror that can happen to even our most innocent isn’t about how much it hurts, it’s about never allowing such a thing to happen again. Sometimes remembering the pain is better than forgetting it.
There is no right way to do a memorial, and artists will never satisfy all of those who were affected by the tragedy it will represent. All they can do is communicate a message and hope that it is understood in some way or another by those who will experience it. I actually like the idea of this particular landscape art, just not sure it sits well with me for this particular project.