EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(W055)

The public memorialisation of death: spontaneous shrines as political tools

Location Wills LT G25
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30

Convenors

Cristina Sanchez-Carretero (CSIC) email
Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam/Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This workshop explores the political uses of spontaneous shrines built to memorialise sudden death, including responses to terrorist massacres and other forms of violence, and collective shrines in memory of emblematic personalities.

Long Abstract

This workshop explores the political uses of spontaneous shrines built to memorialise sudden death, including responses to terrorist massacres and other forms of violence, and collective shrines in memory of emblematic personalities. The panel concentrates on public shrines and not on roadside and other private memorials. In the case of the March 11th 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the city was transformed. The following day the streets were filled with a mass of mourning demonstrators. Spontaneous shrines - a term coined by Jack Santino - began to appear on the day of the attacks, in the train stations, blanketing pavements, platforms, public squares and underground stations. The spaces of civil sacrality created after the attacks in Madrid followed the pattern of collective mourning after massacres, such as September 11th, and after the deaths of famous personalities - Princess Diana in England or Pim Fortuyn in The Netherlands. What are the links among these forms of public memorialisation of death? How are these public spaces used to memorialise death? How is the mass media influencing these global ways of expressing grief? Are civil spaces replacing sacred grounds for these purposes? We invite papers to explore theoretical models applicable to the study of the links between protest, memorialisation and spontaneous shrines; as well as ethnographic, and comparative, case studies on the public memorialisation of death. In addition, analytical papers exploring how these phenomena should be depicted are welcomed, problematising the spontaneity element, its ephemeral status - often changed into permanent monuments - and the strong religious connotation of the term 'shrine'.

Papers

Spontaneous shrines and the public ritualesque

Author: Jack Santino (Sorbonne)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper will synthesize several years of research and publication on the phenomena of spontaneous shrines and the public memorialisation of death. As an emergent mourning ritual, I will suggest the properties of this phenomenon, their public and political natures, and suggest the concept of the "ritualesque" as a means of understanding these and other emergent public display events.

Ephemeral memorials as performative practice: an ethnographic approach to the Theo van Gogh memorial site

Author: Irene Stengs (Meertens Institute)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

On November 2nd, 2004, the provocative movie director and publicist Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim fanatic. The assassination, in Amsterdam, happened in the context of Van Gogh's habit of commenting bluntly on just anything, including Muslims, and of his production of Submission, a movie highlighting the relation between the abuse of Muslim women and the Koran. On the spot where Van Gogh had died a large ephemeral memorial took shape.

Taking the Van Gogh memorial as its empirical focus, this paper attempts to widen the prevalent perspective of ephemeral memorials as public responses to cases of violent death by approaching ephemeral memorials as performative practice. In this perspective, ephemeral memorials appear as ritualised sites that not only 'are' but at the same time 'act' and interact with the social reality that constitutes them. Analysing the dynamics between (media) narratives and the constituents of the memorial, the paper frames the material development of the Van Gogh memorial during its one-week existence together with its development as a medium within the contemporary Dutch public debate.

Performing monuments of commemoration: arenas of political resentment in Dutch society

Author: Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam/Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In 2001 mr. Pim Fortuyn entered Dutch national politics in order to realise fundamental changes in the rigid traditional political systeem. With his unorthodox approach, his charisma and practical solutions for the socio-cultural problems in Dutch society he achieved an immense popularity. Some days before the elections, on may 6 2002, he was shot dead. Desperation and mourning were nationwide and makeshift memorial sites were created. In this paper will be discussed how these sites became pre-eminent performative foci for dealing and processing with Fortuyn's murder and at the same time transformed also into arenas of the social and political resentment among the Dutch.

Writing sites: shrines from 9/11, New York 2001

Author: Beatrice Fraenkel (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

During an inquiry in New York in September 2001, we photographed, filmed and analysed the multiple writings that appeared after the attacks. We will present the graphic and textual characteristics of shrines that were built all over the city and show that the value of these writings is more performative than informative or expressive. Made as ephemeral objects to stick, they offer an opportunity to act together. Made as more permanent objects to be read and contemplated, these writings incite people to stop in front of the shrines, to stay and to stand together in silence as a show of collective caring. Put in the environment after such tragedies, these artefacts help to make the city a more liveable place.

Collecting and interpreting a national tragedy: the Smithsonian and September 11

Author: James Gardner (Smithsonian Institution)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Designated by the US Congress as the nation's official respository for September 11 collections, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History was uncertain about where that responsibility would lead. What role should a museum play in a time of national crisis? Over the months that followed the terrorist attacks, the museum had to tackle questions of whether to collect, when to collect, what to collect, and how to collect--all fundamentally recast by the emotions of the moment. How would we move forward without appearing ghoulish or self serving? What are the ethics of collecting memorials and the ephemera of loss? How would we navigate between memorialization and history, between relics and historical objects? How would we establish historical perspective when we were in the middle of unfolding events? How would we avoid the jingoism and uncritical patriotism of post 9/11 America without appearing unpatriotic or uncaring? How would we deal with the emotions that constituted the new context for our work? In other words, could we do history in this new climate? The events of September 11 and their aftermath challenged the museum to rethink its agenda, to reexamine fundamental roles and responsibilities. This paper will examine the challenges the museum faced, its responses, and the implications for cultural institutions in times of national and international crisis and conflict.

'We all were in those trains': social cohesion and the performance of grief in the aftermath of the March 11th terrorist attacks in Madrid

Author: Cristina Sanchez-Carretero (CSIC)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper explores the political uses of spontaneous shrines using as a case study the ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the aftermath of March 11th terrorist attacks in Madrid. The goal of this paper is to explore the strategies developed during those performances of grief. In the case of Madrid, the mourning rituals performed at various train stations, together with public anti-terrorist demonstrations, constituted an arena for public debate and political change. To what extend are spontaneous shrines creating a space for the intertwinment of religion and political debates? By whom is the performance of grief --as a tool for social cohesion--controlled; and what is the level of the performers' agency to provoke actual change?

Public behaviours as scintillating signals for communication

Author: Pilar Jimeno Salvatierra (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

During the last century we have witnessed the development of principal theories that turn on collective actions. One of these types of action was named "ritual" by authors who cross the social sciences, from Durkheim to Rappaport. In my presentation, I consider ritual, from an ecological point of view, to be synonymous with the construction of the sacred. Within this perspective, the preferential element that constitutes a ritual is collective behaviour, as a way to modify the environment and to regulate the system. In this paper, I compare the new behaviours that arise in a spontaneous way around March 11th 2004 terrorists attacks in Madrid with a ritual, while proposing some ways of observing the material aspects of the collective orientated behaviour and of claiming the social and interpretive importance of these aspects. To do so, I will use some of Rappaport's methodological concepts in relation to the theory of the material signs in the ritual.

The memorialisation of traumatic death around mass grave exhumations in contemporary Spain

Author: Francisco Ferrándiz (Spanish National Research Council)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper explores the tensions and crossfertilizations among the different ways in which relatives, civil associations and political authorities and entities commemorate the memory of the defeated of the Spanish Civil War, as expressed in the management of the spaces of death, that were made public through the exhumation of the mass graves that were a result from Franco's repression. These commemorations are rather diverse and range from spontaneous shrines improvised by relatives to full-fledged political acts sponsored from different instances of government. The paper will present comparative analysis based on fieldwork data from three different locations: Valdediós (Asturias), La Barranca (La Rioja), and Villamayor (Burgos).

'Tragedy Cromagnon': metamorphosis and coexistence of two shrines, the popular and the official

Author: Damian Cioce (Instituto Superior de Formación Docente)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

"Cromagnon Republic" was a nightclub dedicated to rock concerts, located in the district of Balvanera, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In this nightclub, 194 people died violently during a live concert of the national-rock band "Callejeros" on 30th December 2004. This catastrophe is a tragedy of mass death. To the survivors, this death opened a mournful phase during which they were burdened with special duties: to mourn and manifest their pain in different ways. These duties are expressed in the aesthetic and symbolic elements - both catholic and pagan - that turned a popular altar into a mixed shrine. Apart from this popular shrine, also an official shrine was built by the State, and named "Memorial Square". Both shrines co-exist, but the official one is undergoing - by those who built the first one - a process of new signification and symbolization with particular characteristics and is transmitting a sense of membership and individuality. To resume, the 'Cromagnon' death has a specific meaning for the collective consciousness of the survivors and their relatives. It is an object of different cultural manifestations: producing different and contestating popular and official expressions in the city. By Lic. Damián Pedro Cioce, Lic. Ana Gabriela Muñiz and Prof. José María Narváez.

Contesting the memory of "the shooters" at Columbine High School

Author: Sylvia Grider (Texas A&M University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

On April 20, 1999, Hitler's birthday, the fatal shooting of twelve students and one teacher at Colorado's Columbine High School was the most deadly of a spate of similar school shootings which swept the United States beginning in 1996. The two assailants, who were also students at Columbine High School, committed suicide before they could be apprehended by authorities. Locally they are never referred to as "murderers," always as "The Shooters."

The elaborate spontaneous shrines which developed on the school parking lot and at an adjacent park were among the first such shrines in the United States to receive national and international media coverage. (The shrine at the site of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995-also timed to coincide with Hitler's birthday-preceded Columbine.)

The Columbine shrines spurred controversy because community members were bitterly divided over the issue of memorializing The Shooters as well as their victims. A minority in the community regarded The Shooters as victims, but others saw them as cold-blooded murderers. The controversy erupted into violence when an outsider from Illinois, Greg Zanis, erected 15 crosses on a rise in the park (13 for the dead students and their teacher, 2 for The Shooters). The two crosses for The Shooters were destroyed in protest. Various other cross assemblages were erected on the site during the next several months, resulting in additional protests from American atheist organizations.

This series of events raises questions about the "ownership" of spontaneous shrines; the memorialisation of not only those who are killed in mass murders but also the killers; and the cross as a focus of protest.

Mourning John Paul II in the streets of Polish cities as enacting communitas

Author: Ewa Klekot (University of Warsaw)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Although the dying and the death of John Paul II were staged, it is not surprising that in Poland the mourning had a huge spontaneous component, including streets converted in shrines and changes in people's attitude toward the city space. Warsaw, considered by its inhabitants as a rather unfriendly town space, witnessed at that time a real invasion of people of its usually empty and expressionless streets. The period of mourning was also highly mythologized. The spontaneity of the mourning became discussed in the media. The efforts to give the whole thing a moral rather than political dimension were obvious. Some months after the JP II' s death during an artistic action called "T-shirts for freedom", dealing with problems of social exclusion, a T-shirt with the slogan "I didn't mourn the pope" was exposed in some art galleries; later in 2005 the exhibition was banned from the Lublin University. This paper will explore the mourning as enacting communitas with the special focus on its spatial aspects, as well as its moral vs. political dimensions referring to the Polish discourse on patriotism since the 1980s.

The girl in Kúagerði, or, how grief paves the way, literally

Author: Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

It is said that sometimes, when the weather is bad, a young girl can be seen standing by the side of the road in Kúagerði, drenched from the rain and trying to hitch a lift to town. Asked where she is going, the girl gives an address in the town. She does not say anything else. When driving past the cemetery at the edge of town, the girl disappears suddenly. Drivers who have given her a lift are of course shaken and many have stopped their car to look for her. Some went to the address she mentioned. There they are greeted by a middle aged couple who, on hearing the story, explain that the girl is their daughter and that in recent years many drivers have come to their house having offered her a lift. "You see, the girl died in a car accident in Kúagerði a few years ago and is buried in the cemetery at the edge of town." She is always on her way home to her parents but never makes it all the way: before she gets there she disappears into her grave in the cemetery.

In Kúagerði, there is a 'black spot', a spot that has been the scene of more fatal and near fatal car accidents than any other place in Iceland. Over the last fifteen years it has also become a public shrine, a monument to those who have perished there, and by extension to all victims of car crashes in Iceland. The shrine in turn has become a focal point for a campaign for road safety, better 'traffic culture', better roads; a campaign that involves car enthusiasts, insurance companies, government agencies and private, often bereaved, individuals. The shrine and the campaign bring together issues around biopolitics of populations and their efficient movements; the politics of speed; neo-liberal governmentality; and the phantasm of modernity in Iceland. This paper relates the history and ethnography of the shrine and its associated campaign in the light of these issues.

The politisation of road trauma in Portugal: from oblivion to remembrance

Author: Manuel Ramos (ISCTE - University Institute of Lisbon)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

The recent mediatisation of issues relating to road accidents in Portugal has created a political environment where traditional actors (political parties, technical authorities) have been progressively challenged by civil rights associations, in a rapidly changing setting of mobility, where the democratization of private ownership of the car and the quick expansion of the road network have been major transforming factors. The celebrations of the "remembrance day" ("world remembrance day", since 2005), every year on the third Sunday of November, have been an occasion for various associations to gather with the intention of becoming more assertive as challengers of the political status quo of road trauma in Portugal. The notion of "civil war in Portuguese roads" has become ubiquitous in the media and in people's everyday discourses. The implications - that a state of war and a culture of violence and aggression exist in Portuguese roads - of such vision are discussed in the present paper, with specific reference to the author's involvement with the whole issue.