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Lisa Vestal

Memory Brought to Light:
The Instruments and Projections of Krzysztof Wodiczko

Krzysztof Wodiczko, The Hiroshima Projection, 2001, courtesy of Galerie Lelonge

          There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.                 —Robert Musil

          The question of memorialization has been a salient one in the thinking of the last half of the 20th century through the present moment. How do we remember? What role do public monuments play in mediating history and memory? In an age that resonates with the after effects of World War II and the Vietnam War, the removal of the Berlin Wall and, most recently, the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the demand to recollect has intensified, almost as if we are haunted by an insatiable anxiety of some other imminent, traumatic loss. Yet, paradoxically, the capacity of traditional monuments to preserve memories proves ever more precarious: considering that they either extol or absolve the deeds of history, monuments occlude the process of remembering, thus reducing viewers to servile observers. There is some question as to what happens when an individual’s memories are represented for another, as they move from private to public memory and then, perhaps, to the domain of history. It is in this domain that questions of truth, accuracy, and judgment are addressed. Debates over how to probe the past from new critical perspectives have produced more active modes of memory-telling, fusing historical inquiry with an awareness of the ways history has been passed down to us. As Polish-American artist Krzysztof Wodiczko notes, “It is necessary to actualize the past and the present’s relation to the past must be visible.” I am interested in the relationship among place, memory, technology and identity, particularly the identities of marginalized or forgotten communities that Wodiczko’s instruments and video projections address. I want to explore how their relationship to one another might be articulated through visual and aesthetic means that serve to combat and address our accelerated technological time while providing an accessibility to memory practice that is inclusive, meaningful, and productive.

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Bunker Hill Monument Projection, 1998,
courtesy of Galerie Lelonge

          In my thesis I will argue that we are trying to counteract the fear of forgetting with survival strategies of public and private memorialization. And instead of this concept being realized in monumental form that may, as James E. Young states, “divest our obligations to remember,” I will closely examine how the concept of the fleeting serves as a vital mnemonic device that is integral to strategies of memory and remembrance uniquely represented in Krzysztof Wodiczko’s work.

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Alien Staff, 1992, courtesy of Galerie Lelonge

          My thesis investigates how the fleeting, transitory, vanishing image and the afterimage of memory, demonstrated by Wodiczko’s instruments and projections, prove to be more memorable and long-lasting than memory represented in monumental form. I plan to explore the retrieval and reconfiguration of memory produced by Wodiczko’s work that, I will argue, enables a transference between the architectural body of memory and the human embodiment of memory that occurs not only during the projection, but interestingly emerges as the projection fades, allowing the memory to stabilize. Through a close analysis of Wodiczko’s instruments and projections, I will demonstrate how they replace rational, linear, and enclosed narratives with a synchronous and performative methodology that conflates past, present, and future to represent memory and enable us to become memory activists.

Deutsche, Rosalyn. “Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Projection and the Site of Urban Revitalization,” October 38 (1986): 66.

Young, James E. “The Counter-Monument: Memory Against Itself in Germany Today,” Critical Inquiry 18, no. 2 (Winter 1992): 273.


          Lisa Vestal received her BA in Communication with a minor in Art History from Santa Clara University,and worked for the National Museum of Women in the Arts and as a Curatorial Aide for SFMOMA. While at SAIC, Lisa worked as a Graduate Lecturer Fellow for the Art Institute of Chicago and as Education and Tour Coordinator for Spertus Museum.


Thesis Advisor: Maud Lavin, Associate Professor; Visual and Critical Studies; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: Jeffrey Skoller, Associate Professor; Film, Video, and New Media

Second Reader: Gregory Sholette, Assistant Professor, Arts Administration




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