The Electric Cenotaph


In Times Square, stranded between 7th Avenue and Broadway, there is a modern folly. Actually a recruiting station for the US Army, it looks like a lot more. A glazed box, either side of which displays a giant glowing American flag - made out of coloured fluorescent tubes. It’s as though someone at the Pentagon had decided Dan Flavin and Jasper Johns (rather than Rambo) were the perfect touchstones for potential recruits.

It’s like a billboard you can climb inside – as though a lump of glowing ethereal Times Square sign has crumbled from a façade above, fallen, and become earthly architecture.

It’s position, with roads flowing around it like a river around an island reminds me of the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. Designed by Lutyens, the Cenotaph a monument to – as its inscription reads – ‘the glorious dead’ of the First World War. Its iteration in solid, monumental and permanent Portland stone came after its original, ephemeral, timber and plaster version, built for the first anniversary of the Armistice in 1919, struck a popular nerve.

Of course, these two structures are separated historically and geographically. But perhaps there is some odd connection – marking either end of an unknown soldiers career. Between rookie recruit and ‘glorious’ death.


Posted by sam at January 31, 2006 11:52 PM

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