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Tienfong Ho

Memory Has No Place

Somme, 1998, gelatin silver print, by Alan Cohen, photograph from On European Ground

       My thesis discusses two memorials: The Killing Fields Memorial, designed by John Kelly Architects in Chicago, Illinois, and Alan Cohen’s photography series, On European Ground. In discussing the Killing Fields Memorial, I reiterate many of the issues already raised by art historians, including the appropriation of minimalist sculpture in memorial design. I also discuss how the public sphere is implicated, in particular how the process itself of conceptualizing a memorial is, in part, to become aware of the tension between private experience and public history. This process becomes further complicated when the designation of privacy is self-imposed, or when memorials begin to mediate tragedies through ideology. These discussions expose how victim and perpetrator are reversible identities.

            Since memorializing is not simply about reliving the past, I argue against considering historical occurrences as independent events, cut off from the rest of time. By including the context of both past and future, memorials may address how they exceed the events commemorated, and eventually also their spatial relationships. Site-specific memorials (such as those at Ground Zero, Gettysburg, and My Lai) are war memorials where part of the monument exists on the actual ground where lives were lost. As markers for where the earth had absorbed bodies, blood, and “trauma” of an event, they transform the sites into sacred ground. To visit such memorials is comparable to making pilgrimages, as one might make pilgrimages to cathedrals housing relics. In these cases, memory is treated as if it were borne within the actual earth where a tragedy occurred. However, space and memory often make a volatile combination and raise questions regarding the validity of space as a vessel for memory.

         A new consideration, time as the bearer of a world-memory, enables film theory and photography to answer questions regarding memorial design, where sculpture and architecture could not. Using concepts proposed by Deleuze in Cinema I and II, I dismantle the rationale behind memorials as physical structures, through a discussion of Alan Cohen’s photographs, On European Ground. Important points include the compromise of authenticity that comes with site reconstruction and interpretation, and the consideration of history as nonchronological. A history without sequence disrupts cause and effect, thus offering an infinite history without a predetermined conclusion. Through this discussion, I provide rationale for an alternative to structural monuments that exist in space.



           Tienfong Ho taught science at Evanston Township High School and Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development and, more recently, taught physics at New Trier High School. Ideas from his thesis are published in an article “Absence of Evidence” (Athanor XXII). He presented on the Killing Fields Memorial at SAIC’s 37th Graduate Seminar.


Thesis Advisor: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: James Elkins, Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Visual and Critical Studies

Second Reader: Stanley Murashige, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism



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