New York

Athena Tacha

Max Hutchinson

In this exhibition Athena Tacha chose to show projects for public places, some of them memorials to major atrocities of this century. All are ambitious proposals that exploit Tacha’s interest in cascades, steps, and inclines, and in the rhythms these forms activate. While Tacha does not stretch her ideas about form in these projects, she makes an earnest and significant effort to combine iconography with kinesthetic patterns in the search for a contemporary memorial that concurrently honors, mourns, and informs through direct confrontation and involvement. She is seeking a monumental idiom that engages the public, not through awe and objective distancing, but through an active discourse with and exploration of a particular form and the feelings it engenders. Tacha is not absolutely successful in this complex task, but the synthesis she is trying to formulate holds remarkable potential. In these newest works, she abides by the formal language that she has cultivated for many years and injects both an iconographic and a social content.

All of Tacha’s memorials involve a passage: these monumental forms are meant to be walked over, across, and around. They are timeless and still, yet demand time and commitment from the viewer, so that historic events are seen and felt as something other than abstractions and fuel for patriotic gestures. The model for Central America Memorial, 1983–84, depicts a series of intersecting and rising ziggurats overlaid with a matrix of gently sloping paths. Colorful geometric designs cut diagonally across the paths, creating texture and perceptual rhythm. Sandblasted inscriptions—accounts of revolts and repressions in Central America—cover other surfaces. This proposal denies the assertive centrality of most monuments; no clear point of arrival or destination presents itself. The steps and slopes are intended to be walked over randomly. The work is a cogent reminder of a particular part of the world, and of American involvement there, an involvement tainted by conflicting motivations and a conspiracy of confusion. Tacha’s monument encourages the unraveling of a complex story, and insists that individuals arrive at conclusions only after many intersections have been crossed and possibilities explored.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial, 1983, is planned to be essentially an earth mound. A serpentine path winds around and up the hillside. Retaining walls adjacent to the path are covered with photo blow-ups of death-camp horrors. Rather than stopping at the top of the 42-foot hill, the path instantly begins a descent. Again, destination is elusive, as an arrival is simultaneously a departure. Tacha does not let the viewer complacently rest or securely generalize.

Tacha uses photo blow-ups and montages in several memorial proposals. These larger-than-life images force the viewer to remember the horrifying realities behind certain political decisions, yet they also tend to confirm a sense of inadequacy in the face of unspeakable horror rather than to generate action or reassessment. They are not the provocative tools that Tacha seems to think they are; if they were, they would not be so offhandedly published by major newspapers and news magazines. Horrors can be seen without necessarily being understood.

Tacha is trying to make responsible memorials by using a formal language in which she is fluent and an iconographic language that she is still experimenting with. The discourse is uneven and occasionally too facile, but she is testing herself and our collective assumptions, and there is promise of powerful and communicative results. The long controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial confirms that Tacha’s investigations are timely as she looks for monuments that inflect conflicting public perceptions, the enduring need to remember, and the obligation not to lie.

Patricia C. Phillips