Friday, 27 May 2005

Statuary Friday #10

Ok, here's my project: or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt anything qualifies as a meme if only one person is onto it. Well, anyway, every Friday I do a different piece of sculpture selected from the vast numbers littered around lovely Melbourne. My only criteria are: it must be outdoors, it must be more or less permanent, and it must be in a publically accessible location. (Suggestions, especially for sculpture in the 'burbs, are very welcome.)

#9 Architectural Fragment

Corner of Swanston Walk and Latrobe Street, City


Along with Eagle, this is one of my favourite pieces of open-air sculpture around our fair city. It was made by Petrus Spronk in 1992, commissioned by the City of Melbourne as part of their public art programme. It's made of bluestone with gilt decoration, and stands about 1.5m high at the topmost corner.

I think Architectural Fragment is an attractively modest and unassuming object, and at the same time, a remarkably rich one in terms of the traditions and associations it calls upon. It is modest in that it merges seamlessly with the immediate environment - the bluestone is exactly the same material (cut in the same way) as is found in the pavement in this spot and through the central business district. The sculpture literally maintains a low profile, rising quietly up out of the flat ground: from the footpath side, only the slight difference in reflected light alerts the passer-by to the change of plane from the horizontal. Indeed, the sculpture is so seamlessly integrated with the surrounding surfaces that late-night skateboarders sometimes use it as a jumping-off point, which probably isn't very good for the work (there is a worn, shiny patch developing down the longest ridge) but is fairly interesting to watch, especially when it results in an impressive stack on the footpath.





Of course, Architectural Fragment stands outside the State Library of Victoria, and while it doesn't repeat any exact part of the building's neoclassical facade, the cornice, the gold-engraved letters, and the fluted Doric column are all elements drawn from different segments of the library's noble architecture.





The 'library' represented in Architectural Fragment, in contradiction to its name perhaps, looks not like a broken-off piece of a building, but instead like a building that is slowly sinking or has already sunk. (This impression might be subtly assisted by the sense that this corner of the city has subterranean caverns, where the underground railway Loop goes beneath the streets.) I think of it as a paradigmatically science-fictional sculpture, presenting our everyday reality as it might appear in some disastrous yet readily imaginable future - think Planet of the Apes and similar apocalpytic SF fables. In two recent SF movies featuring disastrous climate change, the New York Public Library is prominently displayed as the last retreat of embattled human culture, memory, and tradition (the movies being A.I:Artificial Intelligence, and The Day After Tomorrow.)

Those movies are just a couple of recent examples from the twentieth century's deep obsession with images of, and stories about, ruined (flooded, bombed, burned, buried) libraries. Buffeted by successive waves of destructiveness and disintegration, the library became for many an important symbol of accumulated human knowledge and experience, for people as different as Elias Canetti, Ray Bradbury, T.S. Eliot, Umberto Eco, and Jorge Luis Borges. And the wanton destruction of irreplaceable real libraries is played out again with every new war and disaster.

Allow me one more indulgent but sort of relevant bit of bookstuff to add to the catalogue (I won't make this a habit, promise):


I MET a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Shelley, Ozymandias

7 comments:

Zoe said...

Brava, Laura.

Lots of people are sooking that blogtopia has gone a little stale, and they have a point. But your writing and enthusiasm are just marvellous.

Also, you are the only person I have seen amongst the usual suspects (apart from sju-sju) turning a gendered eye to this. would like to talk to you more about that.

Scrivener said...

What a great statue! Totally agree on the sense of the library sinking slowly into the ground. One tangential thought that comes to mind if Joseph Heller's sequel to Catch-22, Closing Time, where Satan is pulling pieces of New York slowly underground--if I rememebr right, he's especially targeting Coney Island but Grand Central Station is the main gateway to Hell (it's been a while since I read it, and it's not all that great a novel really, so it's kind of faded from memory and I won't read it again). Somewhere in that novel, Heller describes the buildings being absorbed downward and they would look like this eventually.

Phantom Scribbler said...

If Statuary Friday was all you ever did with this blog, it would still remain the coolest place in the blogosphere. Really, Laura. When do you take over the universe? You are an all-purpose Culture-Critic Superhero!

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Lucy Tartan said...

hey, thanks very much. I really appreciate that you guys are enjoying this series, and taking the time to say so.

Zoe, what would you like to talk about? Cos I'm up for it.

DestructoMeg said...

THANKYOU! That is one of my absolute favourite spots in Melbourne... making me a lot homesick :)

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