A (Temporary) Memorial to Ongoing War and Conflict
A makeshift military checkpoint challenges the notions of traditional monuments and memorial spaces by disrupting movement to engage and bring the viewer into the space where they are confronted to interpret the layered meanings of the memorial.
A (Temporary) Memorial to Ongoing War and Conflict, as part of Nocturne 2019 SCAFFOLD, photographs by Jessie Meisner, Oct 2019.
Detailed Description of Project
This project was done in collaboration with Sweet Squish Farms and The Veteran Farm Project. The project was built by veterans and civilians at Sweet Squish Farms. The sandbags were filled with top soil that will be used for next years crops and the shelter will be recycled and used as a roadside stand to sell produce next season and raise money for The Veteran Farm Project.
This project echoes the counter-monument movement by looking to memorial spaces woven through the Halifax cityscape. Traditionally, monuments have been erected to glorify an event, person, or ideology. However the intended meaning of a monument is never fixed but changes depending on the socio-political climate and our understanding of history.
Academics, architects, and artists have been deeply engaged with questions regarding the complex reality of commemoration by exploring themes of inversion, absence, abstraction, transparency, reflectivity, the removal of pedestals, and the use of plaques. These contemporary memorial spaces serve to engage and bring the viewer into the space where they have to make an effort to interpret the multiple meanings of the memorial.
For the night of Nocturne, we constructed a makeshift military checkpoint that blocked the Barrington street entrance of the Parade Square. The physical structure restricted movement, forcing people to stop and find another way around an already existing memorial site. The intention of this work was to disrupt the invisibility of ongoing war and to acknowledge the soldiers who man the checkpoints and civilians whose lives are rerouted daily. In doing so, the checkpoint acts as a (temporary) memorial to ongoing conflict and war. - and to the unheard voices. The temporality of this memorial space reflects the fleeting nature of memory and invited viewers to look inward, if only for a moment.
We chose the form of a military checkpoint because it is universally enforced in conflict and represents profound power. We explored abstraction through the materiality of the structure and paired down the fundamental elements and shape by referencing a variety of military checkpoints from current conflicts around the world. The core elements of these checkpoints include: a shelter, hesco and concrete barriers, sandbags, concertina wire, pylons, road signs, etc. For this memorial space we built a fixed gate, the wooden frame of a shelter with a corrugated metal roof, and two stop signs. In addition to these elements we filled 400 sandbags to reinforce the checkpoint. The gate was covered with a reflective plastic backed mirror reflective material to invite/allow the viewer to symbolically step into the memorial space as they see themselves in the reflection.
Military checkpoints have two sides, one of civilians and one of the soldiers. There is often a disconnect between the experience of soldiers and the civilian understanding of that experience and vice versa. This tension reflects the inherent power dynamic on a more human level. In this work, the viewer can experience this as they step into the place of the soldier and the civilian.
This work did not recreate violence and trauma, nor create chaos. Instead, through abstraction of form and the use of reflection, this work subverts the power from the structure/checkpoint to the viewers, creating a space of contemplation.
I had no intention of standing with the installation and interacting with people during the event but we realized very quickly that the passersby needed a little direction and wanted to ask many questions and engage in dialogue. I stood by the work with veterans and civilians throughout the six hour event talking and directing people. There were mixed reactions throughout the evening making the work into what felt like a social experiment. Reactions varied from genuinely curious to very angry and inconvenienced. I have included a some observations below from people who witnessed the installation.
How the project reflected Nocturnes curatorial theme SCAFFOLD
This project explored how temporary structures can be used to make commentary on the social, physical, and political structures that shape our lives. In Halifax and across Canada, we have been affected by war fought on foreign land, which has huge implications in our communities and built environments, both physically and psychologically. This work recognizes the global political climate and its interconnected nature. Whether it involves the decisions of our political leaders, our military's impact on foreign land, or newcomers fleeing war and finding a new home in Canada. These decisions and experiences impact our communities and shape how we understand conflict and war, as well as peace.
The creation of the provisional checkpoint comments on the need for communities to share stories of war and peace and to continuously revisit and question how we choose to commemorate our history and current events. And most importantly, to question whose voices are being heard and whose are not.
We are a group of veterans who found ourselves transitioning from the Canadian Armed Forces and no access to environmental rehabilitation type programs. We decided to take action and help other veterans gain access to the health benefits of being in nature.
We have created The Veteran Farm Project to give all veterans the experience of nature through horticulture programs. We aim to maximize a veteran’s physical, psychological and social strength and enhance general health and well-being. Participants can access all 6 acres of the property and take part in any activity that brings them joy or challenges their skills and knowledge. The farm is accessible to those with physical disabilities or challenges and there are specific areas that aid in helping with mental health injuries.
As a group of female veterans we understand the importance of a safe, enriched space where women can come together and be comfortable to share their stories and challenges. We will be providing programs that are specifically geared towards women veterans and their specific needs.
Our hope is this project will continue to grow and all veterans who wish to gain experiences in nature will have access. As a social enterprise all profits from the Veteran Farm Stand will return back to the project so we can continue to support all veterans and ensure no veteran or their families live with food insecurity.