At age 3, Spencer Bailey, writer and editor (and co-founder of The Slowdown), survived the crash-landing of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. In the wake of the tragedy, he found himself the subject of a memorial sculpture, called “The Spirit of Siouxland,” based on a famous photo of him being carried to safety in the arms of Lt. Col. Dennis Nielsen. That cast-in-bronze depiction serves as a jumping-off point for Bailey’s forthcoming book, In Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials (Phaidon), examining the power and potential of memorials designed over the past 40 years, from Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) in Washington, D.C., to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews (2005) in Berlin, to MASS Design Group’s Gun Violence Memorial (2019). Here, he describes the process of working on the book, and tells us why the power of abstraction may help us all to heal.
You began working on this project nearly thirty years after the Flight 232 crash. What has it been like to process and revisit that trauma and experience through this more expansive outlook?
The book was, for me, a way to unpack this deeply personal experience in a global, collective way, and to understand what it means to be memorialized in a greater context. Whether it’s war, genocide, terrorism, or natural disaster—all of these sites respond to events that took place, each in their own way, and contributed to my understanding and questioning of: Was the way that I was memorialized [in a figurative statue] actually effective? What does it mean to be representative of something much larger than yourself? Ultimately, the conclusion I came to was that there is, in fact, a solution to memorializing in the modern age, and that’s through abstraction. Abstraction reflects the society around it, because it doesn’t dictate a meaning or message the way that a figurative statue does.
One of the compelling aspects of this book is that you present a critical edge to your observation of memorials. They carry a sense of permanence, but are also entirely subjective, and are sometimes fraught with conflicting interests and intentions.
I’ve come to understand the failure of figurative memorialization—or, more accurately, monumentalization—from the Flight 232 Memorial. I came to represent this symbol. There’s something wrong about that: the motif of a child being carried doesn’t bring a lot of clarity. It doesn’t show the myriad experiences and multiple perspectives on what took place that day. To me, that statue is just projective of a hero’s story, not reflective of the tragic event it’s intended to commemorate. I don’t see myself in it.
Especially striking is what’s not shown at the site. Why is there no mention of the pilot, Alfred Haynes, who guided the plane to the ground? Why are there no names of other crew members or passengers? At the very least, what about the dead? A different design, I think, one inscribed with the names of those lost, and with a more sculptural or abstract quality, would have better captured the detritus and tragedy of that event. There’s a real way forward, if we want to understand, collectively, the power of memorialization, and that’s to literally stop putting ourselves—our human figures—on pedestals.
Abstraction leaves the viewer to reflect, rather than take away a set narrative.
Abstraction is all about metaphor. It allows for complexity and contradiction. An abstract memorial gives each visitor the opportunity to read and respond to it in their own way. That’s so different from what happens when you’re looking at a figurative statue. We live in such a chaotic world, where there is no black and white, where there’s such diversity of people and perspectives, and we need to make memorials that reflect that multitude of experience. Abstraction, with specific intent, is a way to do that.
Hua Hsu recently wrote a beautiful piece in The New Yorker that got me thinking a lot about this very thing—about “commemorative justice.” Instead of a monument, he asks, why not a portal? I love that idea. That’s basically what the memorials in my book are: portals. This notion of the portal, inviting something deeper, taking you to a place, offering you an opportunity to slow down and turn inward. A portal into yourself—there’s something really profound in that.
As someone who has interviewed and written about art and architecture for years, what have you learned about this genre—if we can call it that—of the built environment?
In Memory Of is a global survey of art, architecture, and landscape, but I would say it’s also about the human experience and emotional weight. The book is framed in our contemporary world, but memorialization goes back centuries, from burial mounds to pyramids. There are a lot of notions—arguably there have been since the beginning of mankind—around what a memorial is. But in speaking to many of these architects and artists behind these memorials, the thing that hit me was the human experience behind all of it. These projects are so rooted in story, and often trauma, but underlying all of them is an incredible testament to human strength, and the ability to move forward and progress—without forgetting what has happened.
You couldn’t have anticipated this book would come out at this moment in history, where grieving and loss have multiplied, amid the pandemic, protests, and a political maelstrom. How have the events of 2020 changed the way you’re thinking about memorials?
It was really strange to turn in my final copy of the book in the first week of March, right before we went into lockdown. I’d spent more than a year and a half researching, reporting, and writing this, thinking about mass atrocity and mass deaths, so to be confronted with it so head-on just a few weeks later, was a peculiar feeling. I don’t think it provided any new insight for unpacking the pandemic, necessarily, other than thinking about the fact that it’s important we recognize, at least on some level, that there are barely any memorials to the 1918 Spanish flu. That may explain, at least in part, the cultural, political, and social amnesia that has led to our catastrophic present.
Memorials are something we need—not only to remember, but more importantly, to humble us and allow us to feel loss, grief, fear, hope, and strength in our bodies. Not to just think about those things, but to feel them. I look at memorials as poems of the built environment. They are expressive, visceral, concrete reminders that ultimately help us heal.
The jagged spine of the Rocky Mountains is too beautiful to mar. Yet over the years, developers and builders have manageBuckminster Fuller, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eliot Noyes, and Eero Saarinen completed commissions in the Western United States, transforming it into a hub for architectural modRocky Mountain Modern: Contemporary Alpine Homes (Monacelli Press).
A recurring theme in design critic Alexandra Lange’s work is unpacking how—and for whom—objects and spaces are designed.The Dot-Com City, and surveyed how kids’ toys and physical environments impact their development in her 2018 book, The Design of Childhood. The ways in which outdoor public spaces, with their basketball courts, playgrounds, and skate parks, fail teen girls wa story she wrote for Bloomberg CityLab—one of many publications she has contributed to over the past two-plus decades.
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Born in Grandin, North Dakota, in 1904, the artist Clyfford Still was among the first generation of Abstract Expressioni
In a single word, how does the future make you feel? A towering sculpture by architect Suchi Reddy, founder of the New Y
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With their audacious, gravity-defying forms, skyscrapers have captured the public’s imagination for more than a century.Skyscraper Page, a zany website with a skyscraper discussion forum that has spread to some 100,000 threads. But what’s the point of obs
In the early ’90s, artist, aesthetics expert, and writer Leonard Koren was bathing at a hot-springs resort near the Japa
“Magazines may be a dying breed,” says Jon Kelly, a former Vanity Fair editor who founded its politics, business, and technology website, Hive, in 2015, after working as a staff editor for The New York Times Magazine and as a founding team member at Bloomberg Businessweek. (His career in media began at Vanity Fair, as an assistant to the legendary editor Graydon Carter.) “But magazine-style writing is always in vogue.” With this coPuck, a subscription-based website where elite writers tell insider stories that lie at the nexus of Hollywood, Wall Street,
At this and at every moment, the Earth, and all the species who reside on it, are pushing through time and space, surrou
The exhibition “AORA V: nature/nurture” (on view through Feb. 27, 2022) takes place within four tranquil galleries that, thanks to ample room-length skylights
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A Fictional World Created by Toyin Ojih Odutola Calls Into Question Real-Life Systems of Power and Gender
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Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists Translate Nature’s Sonic Landscapes Into an Emotive Spectacle
To the attentive ear, symphonies abound—especially in the wild. Musician and author Bernie Krause has been recording natEp. 127 of our At a Distance podcast, has captured more than 5,000 hours of audio created by more than 15,000 terrestrial and marine species in some 2,000 h
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Gucci. The luxury fashion house’s name alone conjures up images of vibrancy, extravagance, experimentation, and offbeat latest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, she investigates how this “world” came to be by illuminating the house
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In the sphere of luxury fashion, Dior’s richness of history is practically unparalleled. As stylist Kate Young says, Diolatest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, was filmed. In the episode, Young takes us through Dior’s aesthetic tr
In 1847, French jeweler Louis-François Cartier established a business that bore his last name and specialized in jewels
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Five years ago, under the cloak of darkness, New York–based floral designer Lewis Miller packed his team and 2,000 dahlias and carnations into a van, and headed for the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. W
Can clothing be at once opulent and utilitarian, traditional and unexpected, ugly and sublime? Can it be both a statemenlatest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, stylist Kate Young explains the ways in which the Italian luxury fashion h
According to business coach Holly Howard, those looking to run a flourishing enterprise should begin by taking a deeper Ask Holly How, in 2012. Since then, she’s worked with more than 500 businesses and founders, guided by the belief that effective entr
Tantric Buddhist practitioners use mandalas—circular, often ornate, symbolic representations of the universe that can apMandala Lab, an interactive multi-sensorial space that opens October 1 at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, an institution dedicated
Luxury and utility don’t often go hand in hand. French fashion house Louis Vuitton, however, is a clear exception: As stHello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, the house—though now one of the world’s most recognizable fashion brands—wthe episode, Young walks us through the evolution of the house and its designs, which have consistently checked the boxes for both
As a stylist, Kate Young has a particular affinity for well-designed things—that is, iconic items that stand the test ofknow what Cartier is. It’s sexy. It’s French. It’s sort of, always, for me, rooted in the seventies.” To kick off Season 2 oHello Fashion, her YouTube show created in collaboration with The Slowdown, the stylist walks through some of the famed French jewelr
Since 1915, New York Public Library users in search of visual information have consulted its Picture Collection. It consists of images cut from magazines, catalogues, and books, each glued to backings and organized into folders enc
In branding and marketing, animal imagery abounds: Lacoste’s crocodile, Bacardi’s bat, Geico’s gecko, Swarovski’s swan, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), animals appear in approximately 20 percent of all advertisements. These creatures, however, receive little to n
In Chicago, more than 10,000 city-owned lots currently sit vacant, concentrated within predominantly Black and brown comChicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. Now, as the latter biennial’s 2021 artistic director, Brown further expands upon his project, using it to info
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Floral jewelry has been a tradition of the French jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels since it opened its first boutique atFlorae” (on view through November 14), presented alongside floret-filled photographs by Japanese photographer and film directo
In 1983, French photographer Simon Chaput arrived in New York City for a weeklong trip, and ended up staying for nearly –1991) in California and Japan to “The Floating Piers” (2014–2016) in Italy. Along the way, in 1984, Chaput met the artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who recognized Chaput’s love oNew York,” which he began in 1996, that chronicled the developing built environment of Lower Manhattan.
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Wassan Al-Khudhairi, the chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, is the curator of this year’s Focus, a Armory Show—one of America’s biggest art fairs, on view from September 9–12 at New York’s Javits Center—that features contemporary
The concept for Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley’s new book, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine (MCD), began forming about 12 years ago, when the world looked considerably different from the way it does now. During aEp. 33 of our At a Distance podcast) noticed an old quarantine station turned luxury hotel on a picturesque peninsula across the bay. “Our first questions
When architect Mies van der Rohe first used the now infamous—and often riffed-on—phrase “Less is more,” it was in refere
In 2018, contemporary art dealer David Zwirner hired the young Elena Soboleva to optimize his galleries’ online sales operation and digital presence—prompting some critics to respond with skepticis
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Several years ago, Claus Sendlinger began contemplating ways to address his concerns about overdevelopment in the boutiqSlow, a hospitality venture dedicated to creating places that draw upon their locations’ culture, environment, and history aagriturismo (farmhouse retreat) called La Granja. The working farm practices regenerative agriculture, and teaches visitors how it
Maxine Bédat’s New Book Traces the Lifespan of a Pair of Jeans to Illustrate the Ills of Fast Fashion
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When attending runway shows, stylist Kate Young keeps her eyes peeled for premiere dresses—gowns to be worn by actressesOn the sixth episode of her YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown, Young talks about her process for selecting and securing premiere dresses, and highlights f
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According to celebrity stylist Kate Young, anyone can figure out the look that works best for them by creating a mood bosecond episode of her new YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown. While her mood boards take various forms, including Pinterest boards and entire books of ph
Kate Young, the stylist for red carpet luminaries such as Sienna Miller, Margot Robbie, and Michelle Williams, grew up iVogue, and later, after several years in the Vogue fashion department, as fashion editor-at-large of Interview magazine. On her new YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown, Young provides an inside peek, through her own distinct, high-low perspective, into the world. In the weekly series, which premiered on Tuesday, Young highlights the quality, craftsmanship, and enduring value of cthe debut episode, Young talks about how she and actor-singer Selena Gomez, a client of hers since 2014, created their latest project togRevelación. In addition to detailing the various looks—including a Valentino haute couture dress—Young FaceTimes with fashion iconHello Fashion as a whole. How did Hello Fashion come about? Why YouTube?
How Spanish Culture and Color Informed the Styling and Art Direction of Selena Gomez’s New “Revelación” Album
New York–based stylist Kate Young, one of Hollywood’s most highly sought-after, is known for putting the women she dressVogue. This week, Young debuted her new YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown, where she dives deep into the ins and outs of her trade, and the superior craftsmanship of first episode of the weekly series focuses on how she created a series of photographic art for musician Selena Gomez’s new album, “Re
Earlier this month, Francesca Johanson, editor of the Architectural League’s online publication Urban Omnibus, launched Memory Loss,” a new series with Guernica magazine. These essays seek out sites of remembrance in New York City, addressing a “continuum between private and publ
In the era of Covid-19, you might think that Julia Cooke’s book Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out this week, was inspired by a longing for air travel, but you’d be wrong. “What I reall
How Snøhetta Translated the Ethos of Bronx-Based Chef Collective Ghetto Gastro Into an Experimental Kitchen
Three years ago, on New Year’s Eve in Havana, artist José Parlá introduced Craig Dykers, a founding partner of the archiSnøhetta, to Jon Gray, one-third of the Bronx-based chef troupe Ghetto Gastro. The two began what would become an ongoing converBurnside, an intimate, flexible café and culinary event space for the Tokyo creative agency En One. (Health restrictions have pr
Blackness as a color and, in some ways, as a culture often finds itself in close proximity to death. Despite the vivid b
In 2019, Madrid-based designer Jorge Penadés founded Extraperlo, a nonprofit exhibition platform for unorthodox work andCurating Curators,” on view Feb. 18–20 at Penadés’s warehouse-like studio as part of this month’s Madrid Design Festival, upends the conv
Hanna Nova Beatrice is the founder and editor-in-chief of The New Era, a recently launched independent Scandinavian design publication. “It grew out of a strong belief in the [power of] priResidence magazine, prefers to consume media the old-fashioned way, with an eye toward periodicals that innovate on physical page How do you start your mornings?
As the world adapts to pandemic life, we’ve seen creativity heroically emerge, in nearly every sector, amid limitations.Kei Truck Garden Contest in Osaka, which brings nature closer to city-dwellers in the form of compact, foliage-filled creations. (The date for t
For most of us, the urge to bring smartphones into our bedrooms is too strong to resist—even when science, and firsthandattest to the habit’s harmful effects. One way to curb the temptation: Loftie, an alarm clock designed to transform sleep spaces into phone-free sanctuaries. Calibrated for the digital age, the dev
Those visiting Japan’s beloved gardens during the winter might be struck by the sight of trees confined within mysteriouyukitsuri—the term for these intriguing rope webs—is a traditional Japanese gardening technique intended to protect trees’ long b
Design can be a powerful tool in times of crisis, when creativity is a crucial element for survival. At the start of theDesigners Against Coronavirus, and in the fall, took the project a step further by documenting 272 of the works in a book of the same name. Nearly all the resources to publish it, from the paper to securing the copyright for each image, were donated, and the