Building / Unbuilding
Advisor: Azra Akšamija
Readers: Mark Jarzombek, Nida Sinnokrot
Waves of recent protests across the United States confronting structural racism demanda reckoning with colonial and Confederate histories which, far from being relegated to adistant past, continue to influence material, social and cultural formations inthe present.There is a growing awareness of unstable environments where past constructions ofhistory are losing their power to define national narratives for the masses and where thenot-so-distant future is clouded with apocalyptic visions and existential threats. Thepresent is haunted by both the past and future.
Reciprocal networks of memory building and unbuilding are inscribed upon the surface of the land, or buried below, out of sight and out of mind. National monuments and parkland infrastructures stand as attractor points in these networks, refying hegemony and reaching simultaneously into the past and future to both define and control certain relationships between water, land, humans and non-humans.
This project traces the wake of westward expansion through three of these sites and thewatersheds they were constructed from. First, the Washington Monument which sits atthe center of the National Mall, constructed from the wetlands of the Anacostia andPotomac Rivers. Second, the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, also known as the GatewayArch National Park, sits on ground stabilized by a levee at the meeting of the Missouriand Mississippi Rivers. Third, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, also known as theShrine to Democracy, blasted and carved into ancient granite formations in theheadwaters of the Missouri River.The apparent inevitability and permanence of these monumental sites are challengedthrough a kind of counter-tourism that builds the unbuilding left in the wake of progress.These projectsreveal inconsistencies that lie at their foundations and open up space toengage with both the terror and beauty overwritten by the ongoing and incompleteproject of settler colonialism.