The Ghosts that We Trip Over – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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The Ghosts that We Trip Over

“Monuments as fixed, stationary objects are beginning to disappear,” explained University of Virginia's Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Elissa Rosenberg during her lecture “Walking,” the third spring 2008 Fisher Center Series lecture.

“The focus of monuments is shifting from an object to a place, engaging the visitor in an experience, often a 'walk,' instead of presenting them with a static memorial.”

Rosenberg explained this movement toward the “counter-monument” by guiding her audience through the design of two “walking monuments”: “Passages: An Homage to Walter Benjamin” in Portbou, Spain by Dani Karavan and “Memorial to the Departed Jewish Citizens of the Bayerische Viertel, Bayerische Platz, Berlin,” an installation in Berlin by German artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock.

“Karavan's 'Passages' consists of two parts, or two walks, that in work together as a dialogue that express Benjamin's struggle,” Rosenberg explained. “The first walk is down a narrow steel shaft that descends into a ridge top where nothing is visible but the swirling water of the sea ahead, leaving the visitor feeling as if there's nothing that can stop them from going right into the abyss ahead,” she explained. “But after a long, vertiginous walk, the ceiling of the shaft ends and opens, revealing the sky above and the mountains ahead. At last, the visitor is stopped by a glass sign with a quote from Benjamin.”

“After the dizzying first walk comes the second walk, a rambling, unguided ascent up an unevenly paved stone path,” Rosenberg said. “The walk suggests that you see various sites along the Spanish-French border, including a steel cube that serves as seat and a belvedere that allows you to look at the same sea again, this time in a more reflective, contemplative mood.” In both walks, Rosenberg pointed out the way that Karavan uses the physical place itself as a figure in the monument.

This design approach was also used in Berlin, Germany by Stih and Schnock. “Unlike Karavan, Stih and Schnock’s monument 'Memorial…' is set within the urban landscape of a city: it's not set apart from everyday life,” Rosenberg said. “The monument is comprised of what appear to be 80 everyday street signs but what are actually a banal image on one side and a related Nazi decrees on the other. The idea was to create reminders or stumbling blocks of the Holocaust mindset to stop people in the walk of their everyday city life. When people pass them, these signs are like ghosts that they trip over.”

When her lecture came to a close, Rosenberg opened the floor to her audience. Faculty and students alike asked about everything from the role of choice in both walking monuments to how subjectivity influences the experience of these walks.

Afterward, one thing was for sure: Rosenberg had engaged the crowd and left everyone with their mind wandering with a new vantage point on contemporary monuments.

“Professor Rosenberg's lecture was thorough and insightful yet so clear and easy to grasp,” Erika Clement '08 commented afterward. “There are so many perspectives to interacting in these monuments, everything from the historical to the cultural to the artistic to the architectural. This lecture really brought the finer points of that interaction to light.”

Throughout her career, Rosenberg has lectured and published on a variety of urban issues such as space and gender in the work of Jane Jacobs and the relationship of landscape architecture, ecology and engineering in the city. She has served as Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia from 1998-2002 and was a visiting professor at the Technion Institute, Israel from 1996-98. In 1993, she received The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Award of Distinction for her teaching accomplishments. She has also practiced landscape architecture in New York City and neighborhood planning in Toronto.

Rosenberg is the author of “Gardens, Landscape, Nature: Duisburg-Nord” in The Hand and the Soul: Ethics and Aesthetics in Architecture and Art, “The Geography of Memory: Walking as Remembrance,” and “Suburban Sublime: Herman Miller Cherokee” in Between Form and Circumstance: Re-Thinking the Contemporary Landscape: The Recent Practice of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Her lecture was co-sponsored by Environmental Studies and Architectural Studies.