The mound of Vendôme is a seemingly simple yet provocative artifact: an earthwork that became a central part of a radical attempt to transform urban iconography during the two-month rule of the Paris Commune in 1871. The Mound of Vendôme, an exhibition and research project by David Gissen, recalls this lost structure and calls for its contemporary reconstruction and historicization.
On 12 April 1871 the Central Committee of the Paris Commune voted to demolish the Place Vendôme Column — a monument commissioned by Napoleon I in 1809 to represent his military victory at Austerlitz and renovated in 1863 by his nephew Napoleon III to celebrate Bonapartist rule. The Communards condemned the monument as a representation of imperialism and an “insult by the victors to the vanquished” and constructed an enormous mound of sand, straw, branches, and manure to cushion the demolition and protect surrounding structures from the impact.
The dirt and debris was quickly cleared following the suppression of the Commune and nearly a century and a half later all traces of these events are absent from the Place Vendôme. To plan for the recreation of the mound today is thus a striking reminder of the events of that year as well as the Commune’s strategies of spatial occupation. The exhibition presents the mound as a fitting object to mark and reflect upon the Commune’s history and the implications of its expedient transformation of the urban landscape.
A series of images show the square before and after the destruction of the column: an unknown photographer captures a perspective of the Column in 1851, Bruno Braquehais photographs a statue of Napoleon I that fell during the uprising and Charles Marville documents the tower under construction in 1873. Other featured objects from the CCA’s extensive collection of Commune-era holdings include drawings, models, full-scale studies, newspaper clippings, maps and petitions to city officials to reconstruct the Mound of Vendôme with the use of these and other artifacts. Contemporary renderings by David Gissen imagine the reconstruction of the monumental earthwork and reawaken the possibility of transforming the iconography of urban spaces today.