I was once told a story about a Soviet children’s game that taught trust. The game involved taking treasures (pieces of glass or stone- little inanimate fragments that children find to be alluring), and burying them in a disclosed location under a piece of glass. The location would be shared with a single friend, letting a child learn to trust another person with their secret.
Obelisk for the Future
Erecting monuments is an ancient tactic for extending the memory of a beloved hero, ruler, or those who sacrificed their lives for their society. And when a new country needs to establish their collective identity, they must look farther back to extract the themes and forms that will allow for their own aesthetic interjection. The obelisk is a form that has been in existences for thousands of years, but on its own doesn’t mean anything, especially as viewers become farther removed from the past theories of representation that assigned specific meanings to specific monumental forms. In order to remember the past, we need artifacts; they allow for associations to be drawn, which enable an individual to become a part of a larger, continuously shaped, national identity. The meaning of a monument is never fixed, but rather is always determined by an intersection of architectural intentions, viewer reactions, and historical interpretation. It inevitably struggles at preserving a fixed national identity.
This Egyptian form has been borrowed, interpreted, understood, and misunderstood by cultures for many years, yet it remains as one of the most sought after structures for ceremonial spaces. Initially used in pairs as entrance gates in Egyptian temples, the obelisk was admired for its simple needle-like shape, which is said to pierce the sky. This grand gesture of protruding up, to heights much greater than human scale, allows for interpretation by pagan cultures, Christian religions, and state powers, and in the past century more reference to its phallic nature, which too can be read as a symbol of power. This ability to conform and be shaped makes the obelisk a perfect symbol that cultures can transform into their own image, while maintaining the permanence it has carried through the Egyptian culture for thousands of years.
What does it mean to create artwork for the future? Our future is our past through the lens of the present. I built an Obelisk simply because I always had the desire to do so; it may be because there is gratification in creating this ironically phallic symbol of power; or it may be because I want to experience the simplicity in recreating that which countries work endlessly to own: history. To own an Egyptian Obelisk, Sphinx, or Pyramid, is to own a part of an epic empire that ceases to exist. Yet the obelisk is a symbol that can transcend any language, that any era can adopt, and that any authority can manipulate.
This obelisk is constructed out of wood and painted to resemble marble– both are materials of the Earth–one alludes to permanence while the other reminds itself of its inevitable temporality. There is no plaque, no label, and no indication of who made it. I took the obelisk and buried it in the ground, in a location only known to myself; it is my secret. I placed the obelisk into the ground and covered it with a piece of glass, allowing a viewing area from the surface.
My obelisk will crack and break, the marble paint will dissolve, the glass will shatter, and the wood will become part of the soil. Few will ever see it, and its location will become untraceable even to myself.