Monuments are made to remember someone or something. But how can you remember if you did not know?
Let me introduce Adrian von Bubenberg for instance. Clearly he was someone important. You did not fool around with Adrian. He is standing here, at his own Bubenberg square in Bern. The last days it was so hot he nearly melted. During yesterday’s crowded summer night, some drunken daredevil hung his tie around Adrian’s arm. And here he is on the peaceful next morning: as unknown as the day before. To find out who this Adrian the First was, we need to look him up in the German Wikipedia.
But hardly anyone wants to look Adrian up. People walk by him to go shopping. Even tourists neglect Adrian. They are on their way to the Zytglogge to make photographs of the cute little puppets coming out of the city’s famous Medieval clock tower when the bell strikes.
Many monuments were once made to remember persons. In many cases they were violent men who in one way or another tried to follow Alexander the Great in his footsteps but did not come as far as he did. The statues of these men implore us to remember them nevertheless. And if we do not know anymore who they are, if our collective memory fails, then these monuments serve to remember us to look up who these men were in Wikipedia. As if we would do that.
Other monuments were once made to remember events, not specific persons. Often these occasions were endings of wars. When some Great Alexander had finally passed away and all was quiet again, a monument was erected to remember those who got killed by him. “Peace at last!” these monuments seem to say. Strangely enough some of these monuments have already survived several Great Alexander wars.
It is not often that you see a monument for a truly peaceful event. But here there is one. It is a few hundred meters away from Adrian’s square: in the Kleine Schanze Park in Bern.
No, these are not spooks going around the world. These are the five continents. They hand mail to each other. They are part of an impressive bronze statue made by René de Saint-Marceaux in 1907. It is called ‘Autour du Monde’ ('Around the World'). This monument reminds us of the huge ambitions of the Universal Postal Union to deliver post all over the world.
I knew this sculpture from the work ‘Souvereign Sisters’ (2014) by The Otholith Group. We showed it a few years ago in our auditorium during the GLOW Festival. In ‘Souvereign Sisters’ this remarkable monument was transformed into a projected cloud of light dots. It had no materiality at all. And now the real, heavy thing is only a block away from my hotel, so I have to go and see it.
And there it is! The city of Bern leans comfortably against the rocks while the continents are swirling around the globe in a continuous effort to deliver the mail everywhere. A plaquette was added on the 100th anniversary of the UPU and another on the 125th.
It makes me think of how fast our present e-mail goes around the world. Is it already with the speed of light?
I like the Universal Postal Union and the swift global communication this organization wants to establish. I like the pretentious name and its pompous monument. I think I might even go to Bern in 2024 to commemorate the 150th UPU anniversary. If I am invited of course.
This monument worked as it should. The Universal Postal Union is in my memory. And in yours.