Friday, 17 March 2017

Statuary Friday, vol 2 no 1 (Autumn 2017)

Ok here's my project or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt if 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 publicly accessible location.

# 2.1 fiction

Corner of Brunswick & Bell Sts, Fitzroy

This little sculpture is almost certainly one of Will Coles's. It's a cast concrete bible with the word 'fiction' engraved into the front cover. It's glued to the ground, at the base of an antique cast-iron lamp post, on a bluestone corner island at the intersection of chi Brunswick St with the street of the most very expensivest real estate that money can buy in the inner north. (Yeah yeah, the corner that Gorman is on. No comment on what I was doing hanging around there.)

So far, so very familiar the constellation of cliched self-satisfaction. You don't need me to spell it out for you.

By the look of things, this unauthorised bit of street sculpture has been there for quite a while. There's a bit of moss growing in the intersection of the sculpture with the ground. The moss is oily, dirty, grey, stunted and harassed-looking but it will probably outlive all of us. The corners are bumped and knocked in a way that quite nicely echoes what happens to real books that get lots of use and handling and not much shelf time. At some point a sticker was stuck on the top - no doubt something displaying one of the pearls of right-on wisdom drawn from the back cover of the Anarchists' Readers Digest which are splattered all over the nearby lamp post: "CHALLENGE your PREJUDICES" etc. The sticker on the sculpture has mostly washed off leaving a slightly furry white papery rectangle which emphasises that single word of commentary, 'fiction'.



You say that like it's a bad thing.

Pointing out that the bible is 'fiction' does two things, neither of them helpful it must be said, but both kind of interesting.

First, it's just redundant. An ahistorical category error. The concept of fiction, as a contract between reader and text structuring assumptions about whether the text does or doesn't contain facts and actualities, postdates the writing, compilation and dissemination of the bible by about a thousand years. I would think that only a tiny, fringe minority of those who read the bible now would read it as a factual narrative (in those places where it is narrative). The categories that matter to reading the bible are different:

In earlier times, when we divided narrative into the secular and the sacred, factuality and invention were both considered to be properties of the former, and Truth the quality of the latter. With the decline of a consensus opinion concerning Truth, the difference between fact and fiction began to take on more importance, and we took to dividing narrative into fiction and nonfiction.
Right, so that's Ursula Le Guin, in an essay written in 1982. (from The Wave in the Mind) One of the essential thinkers of our time on this issue, imo. At the time of that writing, and since, most recently just a few weeks ago, she's spoken out broadly against the erosion in our culture of a clear sense that words like truth, facts, real, lies, false, invented have precise and consequential meanings, and more specifically, against the notion that "alt-facts" and other recent descriptors for political lying have any overlap with fiction, which is invented, which does not pretend to be real, but nevertheless is "a way of trying to describe what is in fact going on." That's my second problem with this sculpture. Fiction is a scapegoat word, and it doesn't work.

Dear reader, perhaps you are thinking, Laura, why u lay such a heavy on this little bit of art? Well, dear reader, this is what Statuary Friday is all about: taking nice things that brighten everyone's day, and interpreting them to slow, agonising, drawn-out death. Also, I stubbed my toe on that fricking thing.

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