Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Name that concept!

Photos from www.mi.sanu.ac.yu/vismath/barrallo1/

(Compare and contrast- what are these sculptures saying?)

I just read a fascinating article from the Harare (Zimbabwe) Herald ( thank god for the internet) about translating statues.

The writer said that there are some concepts that can't be conveyed in sculpture and so the pieces need translation for their viewers. "Pierced!" I thought, struck to my new criticism roots. Can this be true?

Now I can understand the fact that people might not recognize or understand why a memorial to a second string Victorian politician should be sitting in the middle of their roundabout. I know that there are plenty of people who don't recognize famous people in bronze. (In the 1930's, for example, the Boston Arts Commission was receiving letters that out-of-towners were mistaking the George Washington in the Public Gardens for Paul Revere). And some of the most amazing bulked up human figures from the third reich and other totalitarian regimes are more interesting when you learn what the sculptor was trying to do with the marble steroid cases.

And there are things like "Tilted Arc", that banished bisector of New York's public space, which no one actually ever "gets". And the ongoing griping and bafflement about a lot of the abstract postmodern school of public art (if nobody knows what it is, nobody can bitch about it). But this article talks about something different.

The writer says that if a person from one culture tries to express a concept that is familiar to her country and not to another, the piece needs a translator. Back to the old "intent vs. interpretation" game. I liked reading it, but once again, I hold to my old dogma- the piece needs to stand on its own. Abstract concepts are, I agree, not always translateable into visual, static forms. But translating them is out of the question. That's an entirely different medium and a thing unto itself. It is translation, not sculpture.

Am I being too abstruse here? I think what I'm trying to say, after all, is that the work is the work. Give it a title if you must, but recognize its limitations or its power and let the damned thing fly on its own.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tap,

    Some years ago I spent some time in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.
    In the main square there was an equestrian statue of "Simon Bolivar," the great liberator.

    I subsequently learned that it was not in fact a statue of Simon Bolivar, but of the Napoleonic Marecshal Ney that had been purchased many many years before, quite literally, from a used statue
    yard in Paris.

    A sculpture is, or is about, pretty much whatever or whoever you say it's about.

    More about sculpture, please.


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