While the Cold War may have ended over two decades ago, at least according to Wikipedia, no one can deny its legacy in the contemporary world. Fueled by political rhetoric and pop culture hyperbole, the Cold War is central to understanding the world in the second half of the 20th C.
But what does it mean that American “won” the Cold War? And unlike most others wars that lead to a triumph, there are no grand monuments to the American victory. All this raises the question, did the Cold War ever end? Maybe not.
Now, artists Yevgeniy Fiks and Stamatina Gregory have released a call for proposals for a “Monument to Cold War Victory.” The deadline is November 1 and the entries will be juried by a panel of judges that includes, artist Vito Acconci, philosopher and professor Susan Buck-Morss, theorist and professor Boris Groys, artist Vitaly Komar, curator Viktor Misiano and Creative Time curator Nato Thompson.
The most interesting question in the projects “Call for Proposals” is this line: How might the legacy of the Cold War, in all its complex material, social and cultural forms, be visually articulated?
I couldn’t resist asking Fiks a few questions about this curious conceptual project.
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Hrag Vartanian: What do you think is the most common misconception about the Cold War for Americans?
Yevgeniy Fiks: Probably that the Cold War’s ended and that we live in a fundamentally different epoch.
HV: How about for Russians?
YF: Probably the same.
HV: I’ve always thought of monuments as a way to bury a memory, is that what you’re doing?
YF: The “Monument to Cold War Victory” project is not so much about buring memories but rather about testing the cultural and political status of the Cold War legacy today. Instead of putting that legacy to rest, I’d like to have a conversation about where we are now as a society, what the last twenty years have brought.
HV: I was thinking about the concept of a Cold War monument and I remembered all the Berlin Wall fragments, like the five panels of the infamous barrier on 53rd Street in midtown Manhattan, as a monument to the American victory in the Cold War. I mean there are little dozens of them across the West placed in very public places as a type of spolia from the Cold War years. Aren’t they Monuments to the Cold War? I’m curious how you see them.
YF: Yes, I think the artifacts that your described are definitely monuments to the Cold War of some sort. They definitely represent the collapse, the end of a particular civilization. What is missing in them in my opinion, however, is the problematization of the outcome of the Cold War. Such monuments are politically correct and feel-good in their approach. We, however, want to problematize not only the legacy of the Cold War, but also the very question of victory and what victory means historically.
HV: Do you think the Soviets ever had a chance of winning the Cold War?
YF: It comes to the definition of victory.
HV: What role do you think aesthetics, if any, played in the Cold War?
YF: I think estetics played a major role in the Cold War. Hollywood plot structures today still use the Cold War-era formulas. I think the impact of the Cold War on film, literature, and television is enormous. The majority of cultural forms, with which we operate today without realizing it are all Cold War products.
HV: Who do you view as the ultimate Cold War artist?
YF: I would have to say Pollack. And I mean it not only because of the well-known story of implication of Abstract Expressionism into CIA-sponsored cultural politics. I’m talking about Pollock’s own pre-Cold War left-wing politics, which is totally swept under the rug by the mainstream art historiography.
HV: What does victory mean to you? I mean this psychologically, spiritually or any other way you’d like to answer it.
YF: I think an overwhelming feeling of content. But until this feeling arrives, the Cold War legacy remains unresolved. So it’s too early to bury it.