2004 winner of I.D. Magazine‘s Design Distinction award, Absence is the third book to come out of Printed Matter’s Publishing Program for Emerging Artists, a program made possible through the generous support of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, and the Heyday Foundation. The generosity of Whitney trustees Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy was instrumental to the Museum’s participation in the publication of this exciting new work.
Both a book and a sculptural object, Absence is a memorial to the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Yoon, an architect and designer who is currently an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, chose not to produce a traditional design proposal for the World Trade Center Memorial Competition. Instead she created a non-architectural, non site-specific space of remembrance: a portable personal memorial in the form of book.
At almost two pounds, Absence has a considerable physical presence, but it is in every way the ghost of a presence, and it is this ghostliness that gives it its particular emotional weight. A solid white block of thick stock cardboard pages, the book’s only “text” consists of one pinhole and two identical squares die-cut into each of its one-hundred-and-twenty pages – one for each story of the towers including the antenna mast. These removed elements lead the reader floor by floor through the missing buildings towards the final page where the footprint of the entire site of the World Trade Center is die-cut into a delicate lattice of absent structures.
Of all of the proposed monuments and grand designs for the twin towers to emerge in the last two years, Absence is remarkable for its employment of an under-used strategy: restraint. The simplicity of Yoon’s materials and her use of repetition speak, without words, about unspeakable loss. Quiet, respectful, mournful, the book does not aim to represent the magnitude of the disaster. Instead it appeals to the vastness of the reader’s imagination and capacity to grieve. The human scale of her memorial operates on a personal level – it delivers the memory of lives lost into the reader’s hands. At the same time, as a scale model of a vanished architectural site, it operates on a larger cultural level by commemorating the site itself.