Mark Callaghan | Trauma, Memory and Aesthetics: The Berlin Holocaust Memorial Competition and the Representation of Negative History

The thesis concerns the Berlin Holocaust Memorial Competition of the 1990s, which resulted in Peter Eisenman’s design, “The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”, a 5-acre field of concrete pillars, situated just 100 metres from the Brandenburg Gate, constructed on a site that covers Joseph Goebbels’s bunker.

How artists responded to the call for submissions is at the heart of my research, as an array of designs representing the breadth of taste and aesthetic sensibilities were submitted for the competition, from the abstract to the kitsch, from the innovative to the clichéd. Competing ideas by counter-monument artists, along with different approaches to abstraction, and also designs that incorporate replica concentration camp icons into their blueprints for the site, are just some of the case studies comprising the study. Evaluations of such rejected proposals lead to discussions concerning the conveyance of ‘absence’, the reliance on the spectator’s memory of other Holocaust art works, and how some designers responded to the conviction that memorials are an act of closure, not remembrance, by creating models that would resist the completion of memory.

The competition is also analysed through the lens of contemporary memory culture – political, social, and cultural memory – scrutinising the initiative’s relationship to these concepts and also a reading of Eisenman’s design in relation to trauma theory. German national identity and the issue of ‘coming to terms with the past’ is also intrinsic to the thesis and includes discussions relating to generational differences, guilt, shame and responsibility, and how the memorial project relates to Germany’s remembrance of its Nazi heritage. Due to the scale of the designated site there is a close study of monumentality and the sublime, and finally the question of whether the memorial’s underground Information Centre compensates for the lack of historical context on the site’s surface.

Mark Callaghan graduated from the University of Oxford with a Masters in Art History and Visual Studies in 2011. At Birkbeck, he is supervised by Drs. Silke Arnold-de Simine and Gabriel Koureas. Mark is Art History Lecturer for the Highgate Institution and also an Associate Tutor for Birkbeck College. Mark is a former General Editor of Dandelion, and now Art History Editor for the same publication.


Link: Denkmal für Sinti und Roma

Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas

Mark Callaghan