Cultural Page

Construct an abject electronic monument for understanding a personal/cultural loss.

Ulmer's project takes as its starting point a set of problems facing contemporary culture and a set of materials (from within and outside the discipline) to address those problems. One such problem is the ecological devastation occurring in Florida. Ulmer proposes that tourism is both a cause of the problem and the site of a possible solution -- he suggests that eco-tourism could be promoted to teach visitors about the ecology of the state, but that this would involve a shift from dominant notions and practices of tourism (represented most dramatically by Disney theme parks). Tourism, it turns out, is monumental since it is a site of public, collective identity construction. To shift notions of tourism is to shift collective identity. Thus Ulmer turns to theories of monumentality and identity construction to help him design his proposal for a new tourism.

"Culture" can mean nation, but it can also mean region, profession, subculture, or any kind of group identity. An abject monument brings into view a loss that a culture has not yet accepted as collective, as its own. Auto deaths are mourned by individual families, but the nation does not yet recognize its stake in the collective sacrifice of 50,000 people a year. An abject monument raises a set of individually-felt losses to a collective level, where an entire culture can recognize its values in its sacrifices.

Ulmer recommends attaching an abject monument as an asterisk to the site of an official monument; a computer at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall can print out the names of the auto death victims for this year. If the number of auto deaths reaches the number of total American dead during the Vietnam War, then there would be a moratorium on driving for the rest of the year. The abject monument would recognize an arbitrarily fixed number of acceptable losses, beyond which we are not willing to pay in order to sustain our values.