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Gun violence is defined by noise: the blasts of shooting, the screams of panic, crying maybe, and then silence. For just a moment, silence becomes a caesura in the cacophony of catastrophe. There was likely no silence during the Pulse nightclub shooting in which gunman Omar Mateen murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others at the tail end of “Latin night” at the popular gay bar. But now, the first state-sanctioned monument honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting endeavors to restore some serenity for mourners who have since been caught up in a tense political debate around gun control.
Anthony Goicolea’s LGBTQ Memorial in Hudson River Park consists of a circle of nine large boulders that evoke the image of an impromptu meeting space. Although these boulders look like conventional rocks, they are actually made of bronze in an effort to subvert the expectations of the artist’s materials — what you see is not necessarily what you get. Within eight of these boulders, Goicolea has inserted a strip of reflective glass that refracts various colors emanating from the rocks’ cores.
In an interview with Hyperallergic last year about the monument, Goicolea described the prisms hidden within his boulders as refracting light in different ways depending on the season, day, weather conditions, and perspective. The finished product looks more finalized than fluxed. Visiting the park in the early evening, the reflective rainbow materials under the glass strips did less glowing from inside the rocks than merely signpost a rainbow light. Admittedly, the result is muted when compared to Goicolea’s original concept.
Another difference between the mock-up and the final product is the existence of a stone pathway to the memorial from the sidewalk, bathed in a still-sticky resin. (On the day I visited, most of the park was still fenced off by temporary barriers, which actually separate two of the memorial boulders from the rest.) Following the pathway, which interrupts the circular structure of the memorial, leaders will reach the largest boulder. Split in half without a glass strip binding the rock together, the boulder’s inside contains two impactful quotes from Audre Lorde: “Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged,” and “Without community there is no liberation … But community must not mean a shedding of our difference.”
Part of experiencing the memorial is finding it. Many visitors will likely reach the memorial by following 12th Street from the subway station that exits there on Seventh Avenue. Emerging from the station, one finds oneself at the New York City AIDS Memorial, the triangular, white canopy that honors the over 100,000 people who have died from AIDS. (That memorial also includes artist Jenny Holzer’s engraving of Walt Whitman’s “Song to Myself” poem in a granite panel.) Of course, this entire neighborhood is filled with important queer history. It includes The Center, previously named the LGBT Community Center, and The Church of the Village, which describes itself as a radically progressive religious institution.
The difference between those markers of queer history and Goicolea’s memorial is context. When it happened, the Pulse nightclub shooting was regarded as the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11. (That dark distinction was later passed onto the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.) The attack in Orlando happened almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which effectively established gay marriage nationally. Meanwhile, the increase in reported instances of hate crimes and gender-based violence — especially against the trans community — indicates an upsetting one-step-forward-two-steps-back narrative of progress. Accordingly, Goicolea’s boulders are unresolved monuments. Split in half but sutured with rainbow glass, the artist hints at the resilience of the queer community.