Beauty, aesthetics and hurt
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
― William Goldman, William Goldman: Four Screenplays with Essays, 2000
In 2000, artist Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Memorial was unveiled in Vienna, Austria. The memorial is a room in a library, turned inside-out and casted in gray concrete, with “countless editions of the apparently same book represent[in]t the large number of victims and their individual life stories” .
Reflecting on the comments that the monument lacks aesthetic appeal, Jewish-Austrian Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter and writer Simon Wiesenthal commented :
“It is important that the art is not beautiful, that it hurts us in some way”.
When imagining outdoor spaces, the idea of ‘beauty’ can dominate a conversation, as it flows hand-in-hand with romanticization of nature. As designers that wish to bring the reverberations of politics into our practice, we must, thus, resist the simplification of aesthetics, refusing its equation to beauty. While beauty is a quality that lends itself far too easily to a singularly straightforward definition, aesthetics speaks of an open-ended process open to situatedness.
To continue Wiesenthal’s thought, then, is to suggest that design ought not to concern itself with beauty, but should seek to make us think, labour and, thus, hurt in thought and affect.
Lee, 2020. Fotoeins Fotografie blog. https://fotoeins.com/2020/01/25/my-vienna-holocaustmemorial-rachelwhiteread/
New Zealand Herald, 2000. Austria’s grim memorial shows wounds still festering. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/austrias-grim-memorial-shows-wounds-still-festering/XYHDE653NHMRDE4PM73HZ7MNJY/?c_id=2&objectid=157101