The Lives of the Unholy are a visual archaeology of the city of Warsaw, an attempt at looking closely at the phenomenon of the destruction of monuments in Poland in times of political transformation. What interested me most were not so much the monuments themselves or their fate, but above all the problem of their visibility / invisibility. Some were totally destroyed, some, although left standing, have symbolically faded from view. The project did thus not emerge out of a fascination with the aesthetics of ruins, but with the mechanisms of inscription and erasure that are at work in public space.
Although monuments are built to last and to imprint the histories they are the bearers of onto the surrounding urban space, it is them that first become subject to gestures of “purification” in moments of crisis. The causes of such gestures are both pragmatic and symbolic. While establishing a new order, competing narratives seem superfluous. Furthermore, those received narratives oftentimes appear to be oppressive, violent even, and their removal is like opening a window in a musty apartment.
The operations on monuments are symptomatic of a need for a clean slate, for utopias of “new beginnings”, devoid of the weigh of history and memory. On the on hand, by performing them one gains a certain ease and freedom of movement, allowing to take on new challenges, unrestrainedly it would seem. On the other hand this freedom might turn out to be illusory. Is there really nothing to be salvaged from those histories that are being left behind? Is it not so that those gestures of purification condemn us to a perpetual rehearsal of the same mistakes? In this sense are toppled monuments always ruins of past utopias, unfinished projects, orphaned histories. Their fragmentary character allows to take look awry, and maybe recover from them a spark of liberating energy.
This is the horizon of the Lives of the Unholy. The project is focused on the monuments and public sculptures in Warsaw that have taken the place of the former ones and also on the squares, surroundings and sceneries left empty after their disappearance. It points to the toppled statues themselves as well, interpreted as a ruins of representation. It does not limit itself to pointing out the voided spaces, but tries to bring forth the complex network of connections between monuments, sites, and histories, to question the logic governing their appearance and disappearance, and to explore the stratifications in the mute narratives of those places.
Today the fact that Warsaw was rebuilt after the war as a promise of a social utopia is practically invisible. Its post-war roots have become hieroglyphs. This book is an attempt at a visual reading of the city’s hidden grammar, of the mute language it speaks.