This talk with Gene Ray, looks at some recent episodes in a history of iconoclastic class struggle in so-called public space, from the interventions of the Situationist International following May 1968, to the symbolic dismemberment of the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate by an anonymous indigenous collective in New Mexico in 1998, to the antifascist mobilization against the 2017 Unite the Right rally at the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In public squares and spaces everywhere, we cross the shadows and stroll under the gazes of bronze conquerors and national heroes, sitting horseback or striding boldly, arms in hand. Anchors of ideology, these monuments honor the victors of history, as Walter Benjamin called them – those who step on and over the defeated, in an unbroken chain of domination stretching back into the mists of time. But the politics of remembrance are caught in the force field of violence, and the dead are called to both sides in the class war. The combat of cultures of the dead is integral to the struggles of the living, and therefore “not even the dead will be safe,” as Benjamin put it, “if the enemy wins.” Heroic memorials have become the flashpoints of contemporary struggles over the interpretation of history, all the more so as fascist mass movements establish themselves across Europe and much of the world.
Gene Ray is Associate Professor in the CCC Research-based Master Program at HEAD-Genève/Geneva School of Art and Design. He is Project Director of the Swiss National Science Foundation supported research project The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva (TAAG), which studies responses to a changing climate and planet among human and nonhuman assemblages in the city and region Geneva (https://head.hesge.ch/taag/en/ ). His interdisciplinary research crosses art, critical theory, philosophy and aesthetics. His long term research projects concern Eco-genocide in late modernity and radical cultural practices in relation to Indigenous and anti-systemic social movements and struggles.