Deserter’s Memorial

Vienna has a new memorial, and I think it’s a good one. Located on Ballhausplatz, it honors the people (about 30,000) who resisted playing a part in the National Socialist murderous machinery and who got sentenced to death for it, many among them army deserters. The artist, Olaf Nicolai, explicitly conceived the memorial as a site in urban space that invites walking and sitting on it; celebrating life, individuality, and courage. According to him, visitors should feel free to engage directly with the memorial instead of merely gawking at it reverentially from the distance.  I was very amused to see the Austrian president together with the artist climb the memorial during the dedication ceremony. So, today I followed the president’s example and, once on top, was rewarded with the inscription, a poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay that addresses the relationship between the individual and larger society and its power structures.

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