Thursday, May 20, 2010

The MEMO Project

memo project memorial

Memorial monuments can range from a statue of a forgotten leader on horseback that interests pigeons more than people, to an emotionally wrenching reminder of lost friends and relatives, like the Vietnam Memorial. Memorials like the Holocaust Memorial at Auschwitz can challenge us about the level of our own humanity and our commitments and responsibilities to stand up for others. Public memorials can take the form of libraries, concert halls, schools, endowments, and even airports and battleships. No matter what the form, however, they all share the purpose of keeping something, some event, or someone important alive in our memories. They are reminders to us to continue important work or to end destructive behavior. They can be an inspiration, a protest, a promise for the future, or an ominous warning.

memo project memorial arts

One of the most moving Memorials I have ever encountered is the MEMO Project which will serve to mark the passing of entire species from this earth, reminding us of what has been lost, and challenging us to preserve the many species that face extinction. The project is still a work in progress, which is exciting because we all still have an opportunity to be involved in it.

MEMO (Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory) organizers state that due to human impact, species are being lost at a rate comparable to the Earth’s fifth mass extinction, 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs died out. They predict that if the current rate of loss continues unabated, the fifth mass extinction will have been superseded in scale within the lifetime of our grandchildren.
The project is to build an ongoing memorial commemorating all the species to have perished in the Earth’s ongoing mass extinction, on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. The MEMO Project has aspects of a building, a church and a monument, bringing together sculptures of the species that have gone extinct. Plans are for the biggest bell in Europe to be mounted in the middle of the memorial. When any species goes extinct, the bell will sound and that will be a mark of what has happened.

memo project headstone
Design for MEMO Bell

MEMO will be a circular stone enclosure carved on the inside with images of all plant and animal species known to have gone extinct in modern times. “MEMO will be built along the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic coastline on the island of Portland in Dorset,” said project founder Sebastian Brooke. “It is a uniquely meaningful place to build it. In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, it was the giant ammonite fossils commonly found in Portland stone which led Wren’s architectural collaborator, the scientist Robert Hooke, to put forward the concept of extinction for the first time. Unbeknownst to Hooke, this was just as the last of the dodos were dying out in Mauritius.
Portland Stone

“There is a certain poetry to using Portland stone, which is made up of the fossils of millions of extinct creatures and which was used to build many of London’s most famous landmarks, to build a monument that will commemorate all the species that no longer exist. The MEMO project seeks to follow in the footsteps of Wren and Hooke and bring together the sciences and the arts in the sober but magnificent purpose of commemorating the species lost in modern times.
The outside of the MEMO monument will be decorated with patterned friezes based on the forms of micro-organisms, which will be carved by several thousand school children and the public. The Inside surface will bear the carved images of the 850 species of plants and animals assessed to have become extinct since the Dodo. They will all be carved by professional sculptors.

Frieze of extinct Gastric Frog
“The building will be roofless,” said Sebastian. “It will be perpetually unfinished: as species perish more carvings will be added. Increasing size will mean increasing loss. Obviously, we hope that the more awareness we raise with the project, the slower the rate of additions will become. The success of MEMO will be measured by how small it can be kept.

The memorial is scheduled to open in 2012 to correspond with Olympic sailing events off Portland, and the 350th Anniversary of the last sighting of live dodo birds on Mauritius. The project is expected to cost £5 million to build. For more information about MEMO, and to learn how to assist with the project, visit MEMO’s website and Facebook page.

memo project memorial
Extinct White Rhino

All images and information come from the MEMO Project


Charles Cowling said...

This is going to be one of those sad but beautiful memorials. And there's a poignancy about its location: the Isle of Portland has been hacked and racked and dug and quarried for centuries in order to beautify the rest of the world. The island has paid a high price for this in terms of despoliation and, so far as its prized stone goes, it stands itself on the verge of extinction. As one who has lived there, and still has a house there, I feel a strong affinity with this stone whenever I encounter it, dressed and exiled, in some town or city or cemetery. Why, did you know that your own Mason-Dixon Line is made of Portland stone? (Yes, and while I'm about it, can you explain why Portland Oregon gets the higher ranking in Google? But perhaps that's just my insular low self-esteem coming out.)

Portlanders are excited about Memo. This memorial will resonate with the rugged beauty of the island and, in certain moods, augment its melancholy.

gloriamundi said...

Thanks Patrick for alerting us to a disturbing, fascinating amd very beautiful idea.We have to hope that the final carving is not the work of the last of homo sapiens...

Anonymous said...

There is such a bittersweet beauty to this concept. It truly is the perfect memorial - exquisite in design and purpose, yet it's for grieving a profound loss. Thank you for sharing this fascinating, awe-inspiring post.

Maureen Lomasney said...

I'm very sorry to hear from Charles that the Portland quarries have taken such a toll... not surprising of course as the planet is pocked with scars. Driving past Carrara Italy several years ago, I was afraid that I wouldn't see anything left of a white marble mountain. While it's still visible from a distance, I wonder how tall it before Rome wasn't built in a day.

As there are amazing natural riches within and on the earth's surface, reflecting extinct or currently abundant species, we all want to enjoy their beauty, even in our own homes, but need to use all earth-sourced materials with far greater care. As most decisions regarding material use are influenced and made by designers, architects and builders, Green, LEED-certified building practices and materials may offer some help going forward.

In the meantime, it sounds as though the MEMO monument will serve as a wonderful call to contemplate what we've lost while we preserve and protect what continues to vanish. Another group plying a similar vein is The Long Now Foundation

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