Saturday 1 September 2007

Talking statues

Melbourne has a few examples of humorous sculpture around the city. Here's one the skinny blokes, and me. I'm the talking one.

I see this kind of thing all around the world, like the bronze suitcase in the central rail station in Madrid, if it's still there. And I find myself thinking about the fate of sculpture in public spaces over the last thirty years, such as Serra's Tilted arc that was put in front of the Federal Government building in Manhattan in 1981 and after much public contoversy, removed in 1989. It was intended 'to alter and dislocate the decorative function of the plaza', cost $175,000 to erect, $35,000 to dimantle, and $50,000 to re-erect in another location.
Melbourne has a similar story (I'm sure most cities do): Vault, more popularly know as The Yellow Peril, a sculpture erected in 1980 at a cost of $70,000 and, after much controversy, moved the following year. Here is an article titled What the sculpture said:

The sculpture, however, was not banished from the City Square simply because people didn’t like it, but because a group of Councillors finally won the debate that Vault was not appropriate to the City Square of Melbourne. Vault, it was decided then, did not represent the aspirations of Melbourne for its City Square, did not say the things they wanted it to say...
Vault, as a sculpture in public, was not only contemporary in its style, material, construction and colour, it did not tell Australian stories. Melbourne was faced with a new type of public sculpture that spoke in a different way.
Perhaps the real problem was that its big blank spaces were an invitation to scrawl slogans, such as the one for 'JOBS NOW' in this old photo:

I am inevitably and mischievously reminded of the tradition of the Talking Statues of Rome. "In 1501 Cardinal Oliviero Carafa put in a small square near Piazza Navona the battered torso of a statue representing Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. Each year on April 25 the Cardinal chaired a sort of Latin literary competition and poems were posted on the statue and occasionally this happened outside the competition period." In this way Pasquino (the name given to the statue, said to be after a well known deformed dwarf) became the first talking statue of Rome. The trick was to sneak out under cover of dark and paste your inflamatory verses or satirical squibs onto the shapeless lump. At one stage the Pope wanted to chuck it in the Tiber to put an end to the mockeries. When guards were put on the statue, the practice was relocated to the colossal staue of a river god at the foot of Capitol Hill. This one was named Marforio and the whole thing became more interesting as Pasquino and Marforio started having conversations. A mutilated colossal priestess of Isis became known as Madam Lucrezia and added a female voice to the comedy.
I love this one:
Via del Babbuino (Baboon) is named after an old statue of a Silenus, which was referred to in derogatory terms as il Babbuino. Its location in the Strangers' Quarter of Rome made it an alternative site for posting pasquinades without a high risk of being caught. Il Babbuino was also used by the large community of foreigners living in the area for lampooning members of the community.
(lots of photos at the link.) update. edit to fix mistake caught by second commenter.

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Blogger spacedlaw said...

Believe it or not, after all these years, Pasquino still thrives...

2 September 2007 at 01:37:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely that should be the Tiber (otherwise known by Romans as the Tevere), and not the Thames, that the Pope wanted to lob Pasquino into? Or perhaps the local river wasn't far enough away...

Ben Smith

2 September 2007 at 03:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

Whenever I'm standing on the platform late at night at Brixton station this guy tends to frighten me. Apparently he's been waiting for a fucking train since 1986.

2 September 2007 at 04:12:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

duh!!... mistake fixed. thanx

that's a great statue. Everybody have a look.

2 September 2007 at 04:32:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

yes, some of the photos I've found online while checking the story show recent postings on the base of the statue. I wonder if this is a recent resurgence, considering the modern liking for unpretentious statuary, or is it a continuous thing since older times.. hmmm..

2 September 2007 at 04:35:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

in the Canal St subway station (A train) there are crows between the bars of the fence dividing in from out. In the 14 St Station there are many Tom Otternoss (sp?) sculptures of small rotund men clutching money and an alligator coming out of a manhole in the ground.
the rats down in the the rails are real...

2 September 2007 at 08:00:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Colman G said...

In Dublin, we also had a river-god sculpture: Anna Livia, informally known as "the floozy in the jacuzzi". Over time she became a de facto litter receptacle, thus reflecting the condition of the river she personified. Now re-christened "the hoo-er in the sewer", she was eventually removed from the city centre.

Also! The "Millenium Clock", a novel sculpture which lay beneath the waters of the River Liffey herself, and counted down the seconds to the new millenium. Here's a picture. It proved less reliable than the cheapest of Casio digital watches, first becoming unreadably slime-coated, then breaking down entirely, long before New Year's Eve.

Now we have the Spire (or "the Spike") on O'Connell St.

I quite like the thing: on sunny days it flashes brightly against the blue; and walking past it at night, alone, you find it's become a dark tower, brooding and Satanic.

2 September 2007 at 10:13:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Grafitti are an old Italian tradition (stemming back from antiquity - some early examples were found in Pompei, for instance) and the natural cheekiness of the Romans found an excellent way to express itself that way. For instance, when the new modern shrine for the Ara Pacis was opened last year, the locals were prompt to lampoon its heaviness...

2 September 2007 at 10:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Colman G said...

Forgot to mention: the official word on Anna Livia's relocation was that it had nothing to do with the unsightly rubbish she was collecting, but was effected so as to make room for the afore-mentioned Spire (Anna Livia lived at more or less the same spot on O'Connell St. where the Spire now stands).

Water-goddess sculpture is removed from damned centre of city; replaced with phallic Spire. Is it paranoid to imagine some modern-day Gull working behind the scenes? :-(

Here's another photo of Anna. The water is turned off in this pic, for some reason, but she's still quite beautiful, really.

2 September 2007 at 11:03:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My former town had a lovely mermaid sculpture donated for display on the waterfront.

Alas, she had a chest, and that caused such a tizzy that she ended up in the parking lot of a local gas station instead of in the harbor.

2 September 2007 at 20:35:00 GMT-5  

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