Statue deconstruction is becoming the Anglosphere’s most popular artistic genre. So why are our local avant-garde artists lagging behind? Sculpture vultures, like the desert variety, should leave no survivors. Our cities should be a vista of empty plinths but, no, to our shame all those racists, rapists, homophobes, slave-traders, colonialist exploiters, domestic-violence perpetrators, anti-Islamists and other assorted oppressors still stand tall in our streets and parks in the sculpted persons of inter alia Matthew Flinders, Burke and Wills, Queen Victoria, Henry Lawson and Simpson and his donkey. These people might not have thought of themselves as evil oppressors but in our more enlightened times that’s no excuse. At the very least they must have been guilty of unconscious racism, homophobia etc., and that’s even worse, because more difficult to eradicate, than conscious bias and phobias. Why are their images not lying in pieces in the gutter?
Even our street mobs seem reluctant to tackle this challenge, which, as with Black Lives Matter protests, is surely worth a bit of Covid risk and social undistancing. Australian municipal authorities too are failing in their duty to pull down statues that – as Leeds City Council in England, ‘reviewing’ its own stock of monuments, memorably put it – ‘can conflict with contemporary values and may not represent the values of a modern, outward, diverse and proud city.’ The British lead the world in culling statues, what with Oxford University and Rhodes and of course London, whose leftist mayor Sadiq Khan was the first municipal boss in Britain to pander to the new racism (black equals good, white equals evil) by devising a hit list of ‘colonial era’ statues to be sent to the tip.
But artists for some reason don’t seem so keen. Why they’re not taking up this new genre and turning out in force with ladders, mallets and rope is a mystery. It’s not as though you have to get up early to smash a statue. They can still lie in their reasty share-house beds till lunchtime, enjoy an hour of digital self-absorption with Instagram, and have a full afternoon deconstructing. No need to wait till dead of night: overseas experience suggests the police won’t care, any more than they cared about the ‘forbidden’ BLM demonstration in Danistan. (Indeed, the Victorian police, were the statue of Cardinal Pell, would be helping haul it down.)
I have just read in the Melbourne Age what is intended to be a heart-rending saga of some inner-city artists called Liquid Architecture and other silly names who are demanding more public money ‘to help struggling creatives’ (ie themselves) ‘survive the pandemic and rejuvenate the streets.’ By ‘rejuvenate the streets’ they mean clutter them up with ‘two weeks of exhibitions and performances’. Here’s a golden opportunity for leftist local authorities to rejuvenate their streets by lending Liquid Architecture and co. a couple of council bulldozers and commissioning them to rid the highways and byways of otiose and offensive statues, while simultaneously having the satisfaction of knowing that a talented group of ‘creatives’ are being lifted out of penury and saved the bother of having to sign on at Centrelink. Repeat this across the nation and Australia will no longer be the scorn of the world for its undemolished monuments to unsavoury characters who ‘conflict with contemporary values’.
This will of course raise a secondary problem. What is to be done with all the empty plinths? Public spaces will look like the wastelands of deforested Brazil or wherever it is that Greens are always moaning about, with blunted stumps as far as the eye can see. Foreign visitors, if ever they are allowed to return, will feel like the traveller in Shelley’s Ozymandias who, gazing on the wrecked remains of the statue of a past potentate, saw but ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ (except that ours will be plinths, not legs). This need not be a problem because there is a solution.
It has long seemed unfair that living people don’t have statues put up to them. Not in Australia anyway. But why should you have to wait to be dead to qualify for your very own personalised piece of public art? How, if you’re no longer with us, can you be expected to feel the glow of pride that statuarial recognition brings? The rules should be changed.
And the ever-fertile Left has shown us that they can be changed. Statues of those twin benefactors of mankind Lenin and Stalin went up all over the USSR and its satellites (leftist regimes naturally would never have anything that might be called colonies) during their lifetimes. (That many were subsequently dumped only shows that guided democracies can sometimes guide in the wrong direction). You can’t imagine that, when some local apparatchik humbly approached one or the other Great Leader with a request to immortalise him in marble or lead, Vladimir or Josef came over all modest and refused – ‘no no, there are hundreds of me already, I don’t need another.’ ‘Just get it right,’ they would have said, ‘if you don’t want to be in the next round of liquidations for promoting degenerate art.’ No fuss there about sculpting the living. So let’s follow suit in Australia and fill our vacant plinths with statues of our living national icons.
To select the candidates GetUp! could do a poll. But anyone’s list would surely feature such inspirational figures as Julia Gillard, representing victims of misogyny, Tim Flannery, our most doughty and accurate practitioner of climate science, Bruce Pascoe, creative historian, and Roz Ward, pioneer of gender fantasy, not to mention perky little Waleed Aly for his contribution to gay marriage – that is, non-contribution – and Stan Grant for his efforts on behalf of national unity.
As to the statues that have been junked, ‘waste not want not’ is always a good maxim and they should be recycled. Plastic surgery these days is also an art form and with elective operations on hold, and the usual excuse you hear when you want to make an urgent appointment – that doctor will be overseas at an international conference for a month – not being available just now, there must be many a plastic surgeon with not enough to do. A quick course of retraining in working on stone instead of flesh and we could have Captain Cook turned into Peter FitzSimons or Governor Macquarie into Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
The Left is all in favour of ‘anti-slavery’ statue-smashing but just imagine the screech from such social arbiters as the ABC and the Guardian if anyone tried to topple these monuments to the real greats of our civilisation.
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