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Bring It Home: Derivatives of The Wall Paper presented April 25, 2008 Bard Graduate Center, New York,

New York

In a recent popular survey of American architecture, Maya Lins Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) ranked number 10, beating out the Washington Monument, which was ranked 12. The memorial, both its physical form and the emotional response it generates, has been etched in the national collective consciousness. Even the back-story surrounding the memorials creationfrom the design entry of an Asian-American female Yale undergraduate, to the controversy surrounding both design and designer, to the eventual compromise with flagpoles and representational statues has become part of a familiar metanarrative that has affected all subsequent attempts at memorial creation. The normal trajectory of war memorialization (the physical act of commemoration) is from the local, to the state, to the national level, with the national recognition often coming years after the event being commemorated (note the WWII memorial dedicated in 2004, over a half-century after the armistice). In the case of the The Wall, this trajectory [sequence] was reversed, with the 1982 dedication, attended by over 200,000 veterans, kicking off an impulse to bring it home.1 This impulse, meant on the one hand as a metaphor for the healing and recognition the Wall had initiated, manifested itself on the other in various physical forms, including a traveling version of the Wall which is still on the road today, a Florida facsimile (The Wall South), and various state and local memorials, many of which were initiated by those who had been at the dedication. These derivative memorials offer insight into the commemorative functions of the original. The Wall was national memorial aspiring to be local,

attempting to establish a personal connection with the visitor much like a typical memorial situated in the town square. This was the genius of including the names, which was actually not an innovation of Lin but rather a requirement of the competition brief. The Wall reflected a dramatic shift in the nature of war commemoration in this country, much as the Vietnam War had represented a sharp shift in the nature of American military engagement. The controversial nature of the war, even among the soldiers who served in it (the source community, in the terminology of Susan Scafidi), created a requirement for a different type of memorial; the sponsors of the memorial recognized this in their program, and Maya Lin delivered a design that met it brilliantly. The Wall was radically different from previous national memorials in its formlow, dark, and brooding and in its studied avoidance of war celebration and pietistic national motifs. Individuals who visit the memorial see themselves reflected in its highly polished face as they descend toward the center and reemerged, often leaving items at its base as part of a codified ritual. Instead of attempting to create a definitive narrative, the memorial introduced the concept of purposeful ambiguityallowing visitors to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of the sacrifice made by those named. Most importantly, in commemorating the warrior (as opposed to celebrating the war), the Wall was conceived as a part of a process, not the end goal of one. The role of the national memorial in the process was to heal a nation (as Jan Scruggs would later title his book about the effort) through recognition. As Scafidi writes, cultural products provide a starting point for recognition of the source community as well as a means of allowing outsiders a degree of participation in and appreciation of that community.2 The low barrier to entry for outsiders to personally relate to the Wall one need only to have known, even indirectly, one of the almost

60,000 names listedallowed the memorial to cast a wide emotional net. If the national memorial was the set-up, local memorials were inevitably the follow-through [elaborate]. John Devitt, an Army helicopter gunner who was part of the 1968 Tet offensive, returned home in 1969 with a simple strategy for dealing with the war: Forget about it.3 This strategy was aided by fellow veterans and a nation that wanted to do the same. In 1982 friends and family bought Devitt a ticket to D.C. so that he could attend the dedication; he returned home to San Jose, California with the conviction to build a traveling version of The Wall. With the help of a local Vietnam Veteran-owned screen printing shop, Devitt produced the original Moving Wall, a half-scale plexiglass replica, which debuted in Tyler, Texas in 1984. The Moving Wall, while not officially sanctioned by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF, the group that sponsored the D.C. Wall), used the same photographic negatives by permission. Minus these negatives, the cost of lettersetting the names would have been prohibitive. Because Maya Lin had contributed her design as part of a competition, she ceded her right to the intellectual property, meaning the VVMF had ultimate control over the dissemination of the memorial. This legal passing of authorial authority, coupled with the immediate success of the Wall among veterans, meant that the Wall was transformed from a piece of intellectual property into a cultural object, which I would describe as a physical object that is intertwined with cultural products. Scafidi uses the term cultural products to describe the intangible creations of a cultural group. These cultural products she terms accidental property since they are typically developed without any intention of ownership or commodification. According to Scafidi:

Cultural products originate and exist outside the marketplace, at least for a time. They are not intended as performances for outsiders, nor are they destined for sale to tourists. Instead, authentic cultural products are intrinsic to quotidian activities and celebratory occasions within the source community. As such, they instantiate the internal dynamics, shared experiences, and value systems that bind the community together. Only through the passage of time, attempts at organization or standardization, or interaction with the majority public do cultural products take on the characteristics of property.

I would argue that in the case of The Wall, the process Scafidi describes happened simultaneously (and spontaneously). The

cultural product, in this case the emotional response evoked by the The Wall, was almost immediately situated in the marketplace, if one considers the marketplace to be defined by the extensive media coverage that the dedication precipitated. The emotional performances, while not intended for outsiders, were immediately accessible to them, certainly as observers, if not as participants as well. Whereas cultural products were typically co-developed in an iterative manner from a pre-existing source community, in this case, the source community had barely existed. Vietnam Veterans had been forced and/or had forced themselves underground, meaning they had almost no collective identity (although they did have innumerable shared experiences). The dedication of The Wall meant that it immediately became both cultural object and cultural product, owned by the Vietnam veterans. And in this case, the tourists were not necessarily outsiders; more often than not they were the veterans themselves. The impulse to bring home The Wall can be seen as localized within the narrative of tourism, with the Moving Wall and other derivative memorials seen as souvenirs from The Wall. The

word comes from the French meaning an act of remembering, and the transaction of souvenirs often involves an act of sharing as well. In some cases, the transaction of souvenirs is the result of tourist guilt that results from having had an extraordinary experience. In most cases, the souvenir is viewed as inferior to the original object, and, Devitt was conscious of how the Moving Wall would relate to the D.C. version: The Wall is a visual thing. When you tell people you want to build a half-scale replica, they think miniature and model; they dont realize the power of Maya Lins design.4 In this statement, Devitt indicates his debt to the original object, not just to the form of commemoration it embodied. If he thought that the power of the Moving Wall were just in the names etched on the panels, he could have as easily said that. For practical reasons, the Moving Wall differed from the D.C. version in its architecturalization. Lin had conceived of her memorial as a rift in the earth, which was only possible only with a permanent installation where excavation was a possibility. Whereas in the latter case one descends into the memorial, in the case of the Moving Wall the memorial ascends as the viewer moves toward the center. The panels, while mimicking the layout of Lins wall, were not designed to taper in the same manner, so that at the extents large amounts of blank space sit above and below the diminished lines of text. The original Moving Wall was replaced only a few years later by a version made of black anodized aluminum, with additional copies produced in subsequent years. There are currently two copies traveling, with a third held in storage in case of a booking conflict. Although it would have been easy enough to hinge the arms of the Moving Wall at any angle, the 125 degrees of Maya Lins original design were typically maintained. Of course, for Lin the 125 degrees was not arbitrary, as The Wall pointed on the one hand toward the Washington Monument, and on the other to the Lincoln

Memorial. Lin considered her design to be super site-specific and could never have envisioned that it would travel the country, visiting 50-60 cities each year. The official handbook for the Moving Wall indicates that the arms should be spread no wider than 125 degrees, but can be brought as close as 90 degrees to allow for a smaller site to be utilized. It is difficult to envision the Wall in this latter configuration, and the latitude indicates that while Lins design was seen as critical (as Devitts statement suggests), the integrity of her design was not. Architecture easily fell victim to the dominance of iconography. Whereas the site of Lins Wall was the Mall in Washington, with all of its metaphoric relevance, the site of the Moving Wall was America itself. Perhaps what the Moving Wall lacked in site specificity, it made up for in the range of backdrops that were provided to it. Almost any sitefrom a parking lot to a high school to the front of a state capitolwas fair game; the only technical requirement was that a metal stake (normally used for concrete foundation work) could be put in the ground. In fact, the assembly logic and labor of the Moving Wall could be said to be part of the memorial itself. Many of those who served in Vietnam came from blue-collar backgrounds and returned from the war to work in factory or construction jobs (if they were able to work at all). The Moving Wall is designed to be simply assembled and disassembled, using techniques (framing) and materials (wood studs) that are familiar to any residential contractor or home improvement aficionado. There is nothing pretentious about the Moving Wall; on some level it is similar to the humble formwork bolted together to produce a foundation. Without extending the cementious metaphor too far, it can be said that once the formwork of the memorial was removed, a foundation for collective identity was left behind. Likewise, the actual movement of the Moving Wall is part of the memorial. The

trailer carrying the panels is typically escorted by state troopers and often also by local citizens on motorcycles, many of whom are Patriot Guard Riders. This organization, which consists of many Vietnam veterans, considers escorting the Moving Wall to be a Special Mission. Speaking about the reactions of those who come to the Moving Wall, John Devitt has said, Basically, its what happens at the wall in Washington, D.C. You just see the whole emotional spectrum played out.5 A close reading of Devitts statement is telling in this case. Basically indicates both sameness and difference that suggests the experience of the Moving Wall cannot be certified authentic, while played out indicates a pre-conditioned notion of what is supposed to happen at the Wall. Indeed, mimesis plays an important role in our understanding of the derivative memorials and the emotional response their physical forms are intended to elicit. The question of authenticity relates to the dual functions of the original Wall, both as a physical artifact and as an emotional prompt; in the derivative works we can analyze authenticity vis a vis both object and emotion. As derivative works, the memorials based on The Wall have dual referents: The Wall itself and the individuals for which the names serve a metonymic function. While on one level this makes them further removed from what is actually being commemorated, on another it makes them more powerful because they are operating not just as pure commemorative objects but as cultural objects situated in relation to a larger national narrative. Not all are convinced that the Moving Wall succeeds in eliciting the whole emotional spectrum, accusing it of being just a simulacra (something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities). Some see the Moving Wall as pure stagecraft, a propped up set that, lacking the weight and permanence of the original (not to mention the
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metaphoric placement on the Mall in Washington), cannot approach its capacity for an authentic experience. One commentator

compared the Moving Wall to the fall carnival that came to town at the same time: I was struck by the comparison. Both were foldup traveling shows. But more importantly, both were occasions for human beings temporarily to escape from the reality of our actual lives in the world.6 This escape from reality bring us back to the reading of the derivative memorials as souvenirs, situated with a tourism discourse. The Moving Wall, named very much in a literal vain but productively misread (moving in the emotional sense), can certainly be analyzed through the lens of kitsch. As Robert Solomon writes, Kitsch is art (whether or not it is good art) that is deliberately designed to move us, by presenting a well-selected and perhaps much-edited version of some particularly and predictably moving aspect of our shared experience....7 Stripped of its artistic integrity in the form of derivative memorials, Lins memorial became packaged emotion. In that vein, the emotional aspects of The Wall eclipsed its physical form. Maya Lins design had very quickly resulted in cultural conditioning; a visit to the memorial was certainly as much about touching the names and leaving behind objects as it was about experiencing the architecture. And indeed what we see in many of these derivative memorials that architecture is the first thing to go, even if the integrity of the architectural design was perhaps critical in establishing the reputation of the referent. Traces of the Moving Wall were often left behind, in the 501(c)3 organizations that were formed to bring it to town, in the websites created to publicize the visit, or in physical remembrances. In Bristol, Connecticut, within a Veterans park, was built a memorial to the memorial. A brick path, awkwardly orthogonal, attempts to mimic the long arms, while at the vertex of the temporary memorials

site sits a tombstone which reads, On this site stood the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall, August 11th 18th, 1998. At that point, the memorial is three steps removed, a reference to a reference to a reference. This example is a true souvenir, meant to reference the specific experience of the Moving Wall while drawing on the power of the original. The most significant trace can be found in Pensacola, Florida, where a permanent version of the Moving Wall (or is it a half-scale permanent version of the D.C. Wall?) was built. No longer moving, the Wall was given the permanent name The Wall South. The Wall South is a hybrid of the Moving Wall and the Wall North, with a bit of local flavor sprinkled in as well, in the form of the Huey helicopter that sits behind the wall (a symbol of escape). Lenny Collins, a Marine who returned from Vietnam in 1971 and the founder of the group that created The Wall South, routinely wrote None in the block that asked about military service, no longer wanting it to be a part of his life.8 When he saw the Moving Wall, he felt the impulse to keep it here, a interesting play on the original impulse to bring it home. Although it would likely have been feasible to set the memorial completely below grade, the builders of the memorial chose to berm up behind the stone panels as well. While substantively similar to The Wall (North), The Wall South is built from a greyveined domestic granite, rather than the jet-black Indian granite used in D.C. The Wall South claims to be the only Vietnam memorial outside of Washington to include the names of all veterans killed in action. According to Lenny Collins, one of the veterans who led the effort to recreate the Wall in Florida, the creation of the Pensacola memorial allowed those involved to feel a sense of finishing what they had started in Vietnam: Wall South shows that if you put a handful of Vietnam veterans together, they can do things that no

one thought was possible. Wall South is proof that Vietnam veterans have the power to overcome any adversityjust like we had the power and the will to win in Vietnam, if we had been left alone to get the job done.9 This narrative of accomplishment was seen in conjunction with many of the other memorial projects. The Franklin Mint offers commemorative versions of both the Frederick Hart statue (offered as the representational compromise) and the Maya Lin wall. The mini-Wall, while not made from actual granite, thankfully has a mirrorlike surface that recalls the reflections that make a visit to The Wall such an involving experience. Recognizing that perhaps a 10-inch version of the Wall lacks the ability to elicit a true emotional response, the Mint provides miniature figures, who in an incredible, if not blatantly offensive, irony are sculpted by Hart himself. In case a potential buyer is unable to scrutinize the low-res image on the website, the Mint indicates that The names are real. As are the emotions of the family.10 In this statement we are presented with the dual-identity and dual-authenticity of the Wall. The names and the emotions are what are at stake. Just as consumers at the Franklin Mint website are forced to choose between Hart or Lin (or purchase both, for a combined price of $690, minus tax), communities looking to build a Vietnam memorial were forced to confront similar issues, of representational versus abstract, etc. A replica of the Hart statue was erected in Hartford, Connecticut (perhaps due to some name-based affinity), but in most cases the Lin design served as the antecedent. The Wall in its form provided basic iconography that could easily be replicated. A nonstandard series, describing a set

of objects that are clearly related but each different, was created through the memorials that were erected at the state and local level, many of which contained reflective black marble (in some cases

from the same quarry as the Wall) or some interpretation of the chevron form. Where Lin intended to create an object with great specificity, she perhaps most significantly succeeded in providing a memorial algorithm that could be used to create imitations. As Mario Carpo indicates, Unlike a mechanical imprint, which physically stamps the same form onto things, an algorithmic imprint lets outward and visible forms change and morph from one item to the next in a series.11 As a 1986 survey of Vietnam memorials nationwide observed, The wall itself proved to be a powerful symbol that was incorporated into many of the memorial designs.12 Having weathered the controversy surrounding its design, the Wall became an acceptable way to deliver the message of healing with less potential risk than starting anew. This healing was best achieved by side-stepping the larger issues of the war and focusing on the warrior by drawing on vernacular themes. Because of extensive media coverage, the Wall was also a recognizable material icon. By tapping into the iconography of the Wall, local memorial builders were guaranteed immediate visual recognition for their designs. Local memorial builders did not view Maya Lins design as a sacred single unit and instead felt free to choose and use the aspects that were deemed to be strongest. Local memorials were thus seen as a tangible example that Vietnam veterans had been reintegrated into a community, that the healing begun by the Wall had already occurred. But in many cases, an equally important aspect in creating memorials was localizing the symbolic aspect of the Wall; in other words, extending the healing process to the local level. Societys attitude toward the Vietnam veteran was inseparable from the veterans attitude toward themselves. Therefore, just as the negative feelings toward veterans had caused a downward spiral, positive thoughts and actions from the public affected the veterans, who then fed these thoughts and

actions back to the public. In the process of surveying hundreds of memorials from around the country, Sandra and Jerry Strait observed the mechanisms of these feedback loops, and the healing they both indicated and fostered:

Two important things happen when a community works together to erect a monument to its Vietnam veterans. First, an avenue is finally opened to the public to express the respect and honor that they have felt for those amongst them who answered their countrys call under the most difficult of circumstances. Secondly, the veterans themselves are able to say, Yes, I was there; to receive the recognition and gratitude of their peers that went unsaid for so many years; and to pay homage to the people they served with during the war.13

As Scafidi points out, in our consumer culture, much of our identity is based around acquisition. This was certainly the case for Vietnam veterans, for whom the acquisition of a local memorial allowed for a feeling of recognition that did not exist previously. As described in detail above, many states, counties, and municipalities instead used the narrative of healing and reconciliation established by the national memorial to create their own local homage to the sacrifice of the veterans. The success of the Wall made it safe to build Vietnam veterans memorials around the country, to draw on the supposed authenticity of emotion to justify derivative memorials that, from the perspective of artistic integrity, were anything by authentic. By focusing on the service and sacrifice of veterans, local memorials have attempted to write or rewrite the narrative of the war, at the same time as they have been written into a larger narrative themselves. In going beyond simple memories of the past, these memorials have created new stories for veterans, citizens, and the nation. Although we say that memorials are built to remember, it is people that remember, not memorials.

On the one hand, commemoration has always functioned at a very personal level, as individuals have always remembered their losses. Only in commemorating the Vietnam War has the personal become so public. One last observation, which I found just yesterday. These are the words of glsims99, who writes,
I visited the Virtual Vietnam War Memorial in Second Life the other day. Ive been to the real life memorial and thought to myself, how in the world could they create a meaningful virtual version? As I approached the virtual wall, I felt a deep sense of loss. In my mind, I was comparing my SL experience to my memory of my real life visit. One thing I noticed immediately was that my reflection was not apparent in this virtual version. Ill never forget the effect the real memorial had on me as I saw myself in the wall as I read the names. Life juxtaposed against death. I wont go in to more detail here, but suffice it to say, that I was truly moved by this SL experience.19

1 Ned Foote, former president of the Lake George, New York chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, told the VVA Veteran magazine, I came back dedicated to putting up a memorial to our area service people. (Marc Leepson, The Last Full Measure of Devotion, VVA Veteran (March 1994), 14.) 2 Scafidi, Susan. Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Rutgers University Press, 2005. p 8. 3 Karen Sandstrom, Moving Wall Becomes Vets Life Work, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), May 20, 1990. 4 Gerry Stegmaier, The Moving Wall. http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/stegmair.htm. 5 Michael Oricchio, San Jose Mercury News, July 16, 1990 6 Ronald L. Hall, Moving places: a comment on the traveling Vietnam Memorial, Philosophy & Geography, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2001, 7 Solomon, Robert. On Kitsch and Sentimentality. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (Winter 1991): 1-14. Solomon, 454. 8 Art Giberson, The Name Behind Wall South, http://grunt.space.swri.edu/collins.htm, 1. 9 Giberson, 2. 10 http://www.franklinmint.com/product1.aspx?SID=2&Product_ID=9292 11 Mario Carpo, Nonstandard Morality: Digital Technology and Its Discontents, in Anthony Vidler, ed., Architecture between Spectacle and Use (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008): xx-xx 12 The Project on the Vietnam Generation, Report on the Survey of State and Local Vietnam Veterans Memorials Nationwide (Washington: Center for the Study of the Vietnam Generation, 1986), 20. 13 Jerry Strait and Sandra Strait, Vietnam War Memorials: An Illustrated Reference to Veterans Tributes Throughout the United States (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1988), 85. 14 The group responsible for building the Wall. 15 The Project on the Vietnam Generation, 13. 16 Christopher A. Gennari, The Building of the Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 135. 17 Ibid, 138. 18 Ibid, 141. 19 http://flickr.com/photos/glsims99/2383796569/