“Sometimes we forget the past and at other times we distort it; some disturbing memories haunt us for years. Yet we also rely on memory to perform an astonishing variety of tasks in our everyday lives” (Schacter, 2001).
UNIFORM NOVEMBER investigates social cohesion after conflict, as such it will have to address traumatic memories of violent times and the ways in which individuals and groups of people relate to the memories of conflict on an everyday level of social, interaction and tolerance.
Our work focuses on the interaction between ‘ordinary’ buildings and the lives in and around them, examining the impact these buildings have within a community rebuilding after war. Addressing buildings that provide an everyday purpose (or at least they did before and could again after war) rather than focusing on buildings that could be used as a typical device for commemoration, a memorial or even a countermonumental (le Roux and Marle 2007).
This is not to say; these buildings won’t have meaning and do not represent memory. However, for some, such as Akawi and Kolowrantnik, “museumification of the ruin, in fact ends the life of a ruin as a possible source or container of memory or stage for politics” (Nora Akawi and Nina Valerie Kolowratnik, page 142. 2014) and therefore any attempt to narrate or arrange these building could be counterproductive at the local level and could risk pandering to the old post-conflict adage that “Violence rendered memories: a triumph for one group but a devastating loss for another, and the shame and ambiguity associated with past wrongs can make memory traumatic, the pain of which produces silences of its own” (McDowell, S. and Braniff, M. 2014), whilst recognising and addressing the uncomfortable reality that “In spaces of conflict, we often find several methods of silencing unwanted narratives to be exercised through physical interventions in the landscape.
Most dominant is the violent act of erasure as it is put to work, most notably during projects of nation building, with the aim of forging a seamless territory that would tell the story of a homogenous nation, sharing a common history, and collectively built identity within the territory in question” (Akawi and Kolowratnik, 2014). The state then becomes the legitimate surface for inscription of events, within the “lieux de memoire” (Pierre Nora’s term for collective places of memory or realm of memory), or theatres of inscription where fabrication of the collective experience is performed, and any conflicting trace to this narrative is erased (Akawi, 2014).
Buildings, space and place, as we know are never neutral, they are socially constructed and will always embody political power, values and symbols (I explore this more below), these will be contested between different voices and interpreters. The post conflict challenge is “how to remember the atrocity without lessening its horror, without somehow sanitizing it by making it tolerable to remember” (Forty and Küchler,1999).
Therefore, ordinary everyday buildings offer a more empathetic approach to supporting communities in having ownership over their memories, acknowledging them and realising their potential in helping teach and hopefully heal trauma for future generations to come.
Our work aims to explore Wegner’s suggest that “re-experiencing a traumatic event in an otherwise safe context can take out some of the sting. Repetition of just about any stimulus or experience will result in what researchers call habituation – a reduced physiological response to the stimulus” and that the, “repeated re-experiencing of a traumatic memory in a safe setting can dampen the initial physiological response to trauma” (Wegner and Gold, 1995), rather than suffering the negative consequences of memory suppression and forced amnesia. One such consequence, is what Wegner Calls the ‘rebound effect’, Wagner explains that, “following a period of thought suppression, participants in his experiments usually show a “rebound effect”: they later think about the forbidden subject more often and intensely than they would have if they had never attempted to suppress thinking about it in the first place. “Although not thinking about painful thoughts may seem like a reasonable coping strategy to adopt” “trying to forget might not only prolong the misery but make it worse”. (Wegner and Gold, 1995)
The memories of trauma shouldn’t be a taboo for some and a celebration for others, memory should be allowed to breath and contribute to cultural development.
Cornelius Holtorf argues that “cultural memory is not about giving testimony of past events, as accurately and truthfully as possible, nor is it necessarily about ensuring cultural continuity: it is about making meaningful statements about the past in a given cultural context of the present”. (Holtorf, 2001).Thus, Uniform November explores, the making of meaningful statements, exploring the power of ordinary buildings, ex-combatant buildings and allowing them to become those meaningful statements.