Monuments and Memories for Our Times
Professor Eric Sung shot the photographic series Monuments and Memories for Our Times over seven years in locations worldwide. With a dedicated interest in humankind's obsession with legacy, Sung considers and bears witness to the complexities inherent to the "monument." Although only a handful of photographs appear in the gallery, dozens of images, ranging from towering memorialized war figures, clunky retired battleships, preserved amusement parks to a collectible silver fork, made their way into the visual archive Sung amassed for this long-term project.
The history of monuments is political and steeped in power, yet Sung levels this notion by offering other possibilities of what a memorial looks like. Through his thoughtful compositions, Sung often captures these monuments in moments of flux or banality; their power repurposed or reimagined among the contemporary life that continues around them. In Yushukan War Memorial Museum, Japan, a statue is dwarfed by the severe geometric shadows of the modern museum building that stands around it. Similarly, with Soviet War Memorial, Germany, the viewers' focus strays from the stately monument to the person riding a large lawnmower on the image's bottom right. It shifts our ground of understanding and makes the monuments look out of place. In other photographs, Sung captures something so solitary, melancholic, and strange. In Montjuic Castle, Spain, the statue of a nude woman with a right-centered downcast gaze, we see the long nose of a cannon, which looks as if it is pointed directly at her. Sung offers the viewer a nuanced approach to reconsider what we grew up imagining as truth embodied by the memorials surrounding us. Time plays a crucial role in the medium of photography, as it does in memorializing a person or historical event. This has become increasingly important over the last six months as the movement for Black lives in the U.S. has pushed for the removal of Confederate and colonial monuments. Sung considers his role in this series as a kind of artist-anthropologist. He works with a desire for viewers to come away from this body of work, understanding monuments as representations of living ideas rather than fixed or immovable truths.
Sung's previous work also considered questions of active and passive observation. For his 2013-2014 series Home of Someone, he traversed Providence, examining sites of horror and tragedy. Large-scale photographs of residential homes where serious crimes took place showed every eerie and mundane detail of the architectures that simultaneously hid tragedy while beaming with New England charm.
Sung cites as influential the photographer Lee Friedlander's 1976 series The American Monument, which considers national identity through images of monuments within the United States. He also finds significant the work of photographer Stephen Shore, whose banal American landscapes capture mundane moments often captured on cross-country road trips. However, unlike Friedlander and Shore, Sung feels less like a passive witness assessing a current landscape and more a critical documentarian who punctuates his images with urgent questions.
Yushukan War Memorial Museum
Soviet War Memorial
Colt State Park
San Jacinto Battleground