Tucked behind the Netherland Monument at one of the entrances to Battery Park in Manhattan, you will find Un(re)solved, a temporary monument to a different page in American history; a more humane and ephemeral one.
Un(re)solved is an interactive installation that can be activated with a custom app. A brief audio introduction, prompted by the “Start” QR code on the pavement, invites you to step into the delicate structure on a slightly raised (but accessible) platform. Thirteen plexiglass panels of various heights form two concentric circles. Each panel contains a quilt with a drawing of a tree facing the circle and lists of names on the outside: 151 in total. Each of those people was murdered during the Civil Rights Movement-era, often simply because of their race. The murderers were not found or not punished. These cold cases were reopened by the Department of Justice in 2008 under the Emmet Till Unresolved Civil Rights Crime Act, but, for a lack of effort, resources, or evidence, most of them remain unsolved.
This touring installation provides a physical space to engage with the stories of political activists and humble workers, children, and adults--both named and anonymous--all lost to racial violence. The process feels like modern spiritual science. First, one needs to scan a QR code next to a name and, when prompted, say that name three times. Upon each call, augmented reality leaves appear on the phone screen and intensify their swirling until one of them comes forth, bearing a photo of the person summoned. More often than not, there is just a silhouette representing the deceased. The Un(re)solved app shows a short dossier consisting of their name and age, the circumstances in which the victim died, and the date and the place of their killing. The “read more” button leads to a longer description of the fatal events, the details of the initial investigation, and the current status of the case.
Some of the entries contain fragments of audio interviews with members of the family and the community of the deceased; some of the open cases are also featured in an interactive documentary. (I came across a couple of the audio interviews but didn’t watch any video fragments.) Simply reading these dossiers already felt like a visceral experience. The physical discomfort of squinting at my phone under a blazing sun, trying to shield myself in the shade of one of the taller panels seemed appropriate. For those who wish to take a break, however, there are two rows of park benches running on either side of the installation.The capacity of this multimedia project to grow as investigations progress in the future is remarkable. The combination of an expanding digital archive and a beautiful physical portal at the entrance of a park illustrates the ambivalent nature of time and history. The Civil Rights Movement-era belongs to the past, yet anti-Black violence continues to be a real threat in the United States. One can stay in the Un(re)solved installation as long as they need or want to. I couldn’t help but want to hear more people’s stories, yet I was also feeling completely overwhelmed at the same time. Eventually, I made it to the outro of the piece (an audio message activated by another QR code in the center of the circles). On my screen, overlaid with scenes from a summer day in the park, ghostly presences were summoned; they flooded the air in the form of the names of the 151 people unjustly killed. And I am horrified to think of how many more there might be.