I am the proud owner of…
this poster by the artist Matthew Buckingham — “The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 502,002 C.E., 2002”
I first saw this poster 6 years ago, and I finally bought it from Cabinet Magazine. This is Buckingham’s description of the image:
“This is what geologists believe the Six Grandfathers will look like in the year 502,002 c.e. Located near the geographic center of the United States in the Paha Sapa, or Black Hills, this mountain has also been called Slaughterhouse Peak, Cougar Mountain, and is now referred to as Mount Rushmore. Cultural historian Matthew Glass writes that Mount Rushmore’s “distinction among the many symbols of patriotism marking the American landscape stems precisely from the lack of interpretive clarity surrounding the memorial since its earliest days. Just what does it mean?” Where does this inherent ambiguity originate? This photograph is part of a series of projects which work to reassess the cultural, political and social meanings generated by Mount Rushmore. The photograph asks the viewer to imagine Rushmore’s inevitable failure and slow return to ‘nature.’ As its representational powers become less clear, the paradox of Rushmore’s ‘meaning’ as a shrine to democracy carved out of stolen sacred Sioux lands by an artist who was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan become more clear.”
If you have been following this site, you can probably appreciate my interest in this image. It’s a form of experimental history that entangles social and “natural” time, which in this context, further entangle ideas of restitution.
Here is a description of the exhibition:
“History is increasingly central to public and political thought, and there is a growing interest in the representation of the past in contemporary visual art and photography. This extends to diverse facets of history, historiography, transmission, historical awareness and education.
The 17 visual artists and photographers presented in Questioning History have turned their attention to the genesis of historical narratives, how they are written and rewritten, and subsequently forgotten or even erased. They take the multiform, highly differentiated and sometimes paradoxical nature of ‘definitive’ history as their baseline for a critical examination of the way in which historical representations are propagated by the mass media and how
historical awareness is moulded and manipulated. In their work they endeavour to expose prevailing media strategies and dissect current representations of history. Some of the participants do this by critically analyzing and unravelling historical constructs in the media, while others create alternative historical narratives that undermine accepted conceptualizations. They draw from ‘small-scale’ personal perceptions as well as from the perspectives of global history.”
This description interests me; surfing through images by the artists in the exhibition, I detect a different take on the decline of historical awareness and meaning. History is losing its power because it appears everywhere; not because it’s hidden away in the academy. Historical imagery laces through TV commercials for ersatz-butter and on the front page of the Enquirer. It is artists like these that enable us to see the ubiquitous and pervasive historiographies that move through every moment of contemporary experience.
PS. check out Matthew Buckingham’s website; and an expanded commentary on the image. I believe his work has influenced, and will continue to influence, emerging concepts of experimental history, preservation and geography.