Beta Bridge Art Project Counters Intolerance
The Gettysburg Address Written By 271 People
September 19, 2005 --
When President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address — rededicating our nation to “the proposition that all men are created equal —” he could not have foreseen that nearly 142 years later, those same words would be used to rededicate the University of Virginia to a similar purpose.
On Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 271 people will be invited to write the hallowed words of the entire Gettysburg Address on both walls of Beta Bridge.
The participatory art project is the creation of Sanda Iliescu, U.Va. assistant professor of architecture and art. The idea came to Iliescu after a number of recent harassment incidents on Grounds, including racial slurs written on the bridge. After that incident, the bridge was painted black, like a shroud, with only the words “reject hatred” written in the space, which was very moving, she said.
Iliescu, who is interested in the overlapping of ideas of ethics and aesthetics in both her works of art and her writing, walks across Beta Bridge every day. In the beginning she did not appreciate the messages written there. Over the years, she has come to see the bridge as a mirror of the community — heralding birthday and wedding celebrations, athletic successes and the announcement of events — all signifying moments that bring people together in a shared commonality.
Iliescu decided to adapt for Beta Bridge a project she had created two years ago. At that time, on two poster-size pieces of paper, the artist had collected the text of Lincoln’s speech from individuals, in their own handwriting, each using a different writing implement.
“I conceived of the project as a metaphor for democracy,” she said. “No one person is more important than another.” For her, the project was about reaching out and talking with people, making connections.
“I’ve always wanted to do that piece on Beta Bridge. Now seemed a good time,” she said.
Iliescu plans to use the bridge as a canvas, painted black with 271 white lines drawn on it — one for each word of the text. She and student volunteers from the School of Architecture will invite passersby to write a word from the Gettysburg Address in gray paint in their own hand.
“The idea is to have each person contribute to a text that reminds us of fundamental values that should unite us,” Iliescu said.
Iliescu will also give each participant a small printed copy of the Gettysburg Address. “My hope is that they will take it away, read it and share it with friends: that it will generate discussion,” she said.
Iliescu also hopes that by sharing in the creation of the work of art participants will share in the rededication of the University and surrounding community to the ideal of equality and democracy that Lincoln so eloquently spoke about to an audience of 20,000 people who stood on the Pennsylvania battlefield-turned-cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863.
The Gettysburg Address
By Abraham Lincoln
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Contact: Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298