And we're both a little older
The unknown soldier
The Doors, "The Unknown Soldier", 1968
Minnie & Crun: Morning, morning...
Minnie: Morning to you.
Minnie & Crun: Morning, morning...
Minnie: Wait a minute - it's evening.
Minnie & Crun: Evening, evening...
The Goon Show, 'The Spon Plague', series 8, episode 23, tx. 3rd March 1958
Script: John Antrobus and Spike Milligan
Henry Crun: Peter Sellers; Minnie Bannister: Spike Milligan
Producer: Charles Chiltern
Marc Quinn, The Creation of History (2012)
On Thursday 4th August 2011 officers of the Metropolitan Police Service stopped a taxi on Ferry Lane in Tottenham Hale, London. Its occupant – Mark Duggan – was subsequently shot dead in uncertain circumstances.
This single incident gave rise to a spate of riots across England. The worst scenes took place in the capital. A defining image of that summer of violence is a photograph taken by the Turkish born photojournalist, Kerim Okten.
It shows a man in a grey tracksuit and trainers. The skin on his hands is covered by black gloves. His face is veiled by a mask such that only his eyes are visible: they gaze fixedly at the camera lens. Framing that stare are the orange flames and choking black smoke of a burning vehicle.
Various versions of this iconic scene are available online. They differ in all sorts of major and minor ways. Some depict the main protagonist in alternative poses; others show bystanders looking on at the searing shell of the car.
Text invariably accompanies the picture wherever it appears. A front page headline such as “The battle for London” turns this masked celebrity into a capital warrior. Replace that caption with something like “Yob rule” and our battle-scarred warrior becomes a mindless hoodlum. His slow, purposeful steps and cold stare do indeed make this lord of misrule appear above the law.
The rights to Okten’s image have now been acquired by the British artist Marc Quinn. He has used it as the inspiration for a variety of artworks including paintings, a sculpture and even a tapestry. The latter has been entitled The Creation of History (2012) and exists in an edition of five.
The title chose by Quinn reflects his belief that the 2011 riots constitute “a piece of contemporary history”. The artist is quick to add, however, that this history – like every past event – is “a complex story and raises as many questions as it [does] answers. Is this man a politically motivated rioter? A looter? What is in his pocket? And rucksack? More intriguingly, the mask he wears appears to be police-issue: could he even be a policeman?”(1)
The merest suggestion that our photogenic “yob” might in fact be a lawgiver rather than a lawbreaker disturbs this already troubling image, transforming it before our very eyes.
This is exacerbated further in Quinn’s tapestry transmutation. Metamorphosing the pixels of a digital photo into the knots of a woven image catapults this contemporary history back in time. Now our “yob” can stand alongside armour-suited warriors in a medieval pageant.
The rich heritage of Quinn’s The Creation of History makes it worthy to enter into the sacred realm of the museum. And what better institution than Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery? This establishment rose like a phoenix from the flames of a riot: on 10th October 1831 a group of rabble-rousers intent on creating a little history of their own torched the palatial home of the Duke of Newcastle in protest at his opposition to electoral reform.
For fifty years the burnt out shell of the building remained an admonitory reminder of this bad behaviour. Then, in the 1870s, it was converted into the first municipally funded museum outside of London.
This place of learning and leisure still stands. And it only exists thanks to the sort of scenes that were to take place 180 years later – not only in London but also Nottingham, where Canning Circus police station was firebombed by tracksuited warriors / yobs.
So, with this in mind, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for the curators at Nottingham Castle Museum to acquire one of the five editions of Marc Quinn’s The Creation of History? It could hang on the same walls that were once covered by tapestries – before “yob rule” led to them being unceremoniously ripped down and either burnt or “sold to bystanders at three shillings per yard.”(2)
(1) Cited in Gareth Harris, “London riots get tied up in knots”, The Art Newspaper, Iss. 243, 07/02/2013, accessed 08/02/2013 at http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/quinn-tapestry/28545.
(2) Harry Gill, A Short History of Nottingham Castle (1904), available at, http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/gill1904/reformbill.htm._
The sunset poem of the Reverend Eli Jenkins. (1)
In memory of Barbara Ann Burch.
“Remember her. She is forgetting.” (2)
(1) Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, London: Dent, 1995, pp. 57-58.
(2) Under Milk Wood, p. 52.
Yesterday afternoon was spent wandering aimlessly around Nottingham city centre. On the way to nowhere I stopped off at Nottingham Contemporary where two new exhibitions have just opened. Not really in the mood for art, I devoted most time to looking at all the tiny trinkets on sale in the shop. Trendy, totally superfluous treasures were mixed in with the art publications and designer tat.
Exiting briefly into the sunshine I promptly plunged into a very different world: that of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Hurrying past the serried ranks of empty retail units I descended into the bowels of the earth. Reaching the end of the escalator I glanced momentarily at the entrance to the so-called “City of Caves”. This place always makes me chuckle: I am supposed to have a professional interest in museums and heritage. Nevertheless, in the decade that I’ve spent living in Nottingham I have not once entered this tourist-attraction-that-time-forgot.
Moving on I glimpsed another sad sight: Gordon Scott. This shoe shop has been in the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre ever since the monstrous mall opened in the early 1970s. Now all that’s left are a few pairs of sale items and a couple of extraordinarily bored-looking staff waiting to be made properly redundant. Even more depressing is the disappearance of the mechanical monkey from the shop window. His loopy tricks on the horizontal bar were, for me, the centre’s absolute high point. He was the retail world equivalent of Wollaton Hall’s George the gorilla.
These textual “traffic signals” had a dual purpose.
Firstly, of course, they signified the Riddler. This is not the first time that this cartoon villain has featured in Newling’s art: a precedent was Between (Even the Riddler Makes Wishes), an installation from 1996 commissioned and hosted by Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema and Arts Centre.
Yesterday at the Broadmarsh Centre the Riddler’s question marks had an additional function. Passersby were stopped and asked to identify something that they valued. In return they were given a swatch of the same cloth used to make the Riddler’s jacket. They could then head off into the crowds with this pinned to their chests – generating riddles wherever they went.
My smart-arse answer to the question – what do you value? – was respect.
Because that’s the quality I appreciate most in people and groups: “the condition or state of being esteemed, honoured, or highly thought of.” If you think about it, the root cause of our society’s ills is the general lack of respect for politicians, big business, organisations and for so many individuals we come into contact with in our daily lives. And how many of us manage to get through life with their self-respect intact?
Newling intends to collate the “public values” gathered together at the Broadmarsh Centre and integrate them into a talk to be given as part of his “Ecologies of Value”, on show at Nottingham Contemporary until 7th April.
My advice would be to get there as soon as you can – and ideally before the whole of Nottingham city centre goes into liquidation and all that we value goes with it.
Screencap from Life in a Day
Over the weekend I spent more hours than is healthy at Birmingham Airport. The reason for my enforced stay was Britain’s inability to cope with a bit of ice and snow.
To pass the time I decided to overdose on coffee and, with too much caffeine in my bloodstream and a lack of real spice in my life, I reached for my Sony eReader. The story I chose to read seemed appropriate given my plight: The Machine Stopped by E.M. Forster (1879-1970).
Written in 1909 this novella is scarily prescient. It concerns an imaginary future in which the human race lives underground and eschews direct contact with the outside world. To achieve this it has constructed The Machine. This networked intelligence tends to the human race’s every need, be it physical, intellectual or spiritual. As a result, the thought of leaving the glorious isolation of one’s artificial cocoon is an anathema. Natural air, daylight, direct human contact – all are nauseating to people conditioned to living their lives sat on a chair, staring into a monitor and waiting for their virtual friends to message them with an original idea.
Don’t forget, all this was written over a century ago.
I am now back at home, safe and sound after my Birmingham exile. And what am I doing? Well, I’m sat in a chair, staring at a monitor, of course. Meanwhile life is probably still going on outside. One thing of which I am certain is that the world existed on Saturday 24 July 2010. I know this because I’ve just watched the film “Life in a Day”. It’s a 94 minute edited compilation of 80,000 YouTube clips all recorded on a single day in July a few years ago.
One of the best bits of the film is the sequence that features Angolan women chanting as they work. I am clearly not alone in this view. A YouTube user by the name of Pellentior has uploaded the music. While listening I scrolled down to the comments, where I found the following post by “cherryblossohm”:
When watching this scene it made me feel like I was doing it all wrong.
What exactly? Idk [I don’t know], life? Sitting here, on my ipad,
cell in one hand and tv on... when I’m up to date on stupid status updates
in actuality I’m missing out. I think I want to spend my time on this earth
in a different light. Light as in, the sun lol. Out and be humbled to
experience how others around the world enjoy living. Cuz I know I’m not.
In a single paragraph cherryblossohm has confirmed the sad truth of Forster’s prophetic tale.
I just hope for all our sakes that he got at least one thing wrong. After all, we will be in for one hell of a shock if the machine does ever stop working.
It is reported this morning that certain leading supermarkets in Britain and Ireland have been selling “beef burgers” that contain pork and horsemeat.(1) Indeed, almost a third of one product tested had more in common with the racehorse Frankel than it did Daisy the cow.
It’s as if I’ve woken to discover something I’ve long suspected: we are all in fact characters in Dylan Thomas’ magnificent Under Milk Wood.(2)
This “play for voices” recounts a day in the life of the residents of Llareggub on the Welsh coast.(3)
One of the most memorable personalities is the town’s butcher, Benjamin Beynon. In his first appearance he is dressed “in butcher’s bloodied apron” with “a finger, not his own, in his mouth.”
His poor wife’s sleep has been disturbed by a dream that Mr Beynon has been persecuted “for selling owl meat, dogs’ eyes, manchop.” Not surprisingly, breakfast in the Beynon household is no easy affair, especially when the butcher announces that the fried liver they are eating is “pusscat”:
Mr Beynon then proceeds to list the savoury delights enjoyed by the family that week: “Monday, otter. Tuesday, shrews...”
Lily Smalls, who is also tucking into the breakfast, tries to placate her distraught mother by dismissing Mr Beynon as “the biggest liar in town.” But Mrs Beynon is having none of it:
Don’t you dare say that about Mr Beynon.
Everybody knows it, mum.
Mr Beynon never tells a lie. Do you, Ben?
No, Bess. And now I am going out after the corgies, with my little cleaver.
Oh, Lily, Lily!
Perhaps it would be wise to keep this little scene in mind next time you’re out shopping for tasty morsels in one of those posh supermarkets that “never tells a lie”. Who knows? Perhaps it’s pusscat on the shelves?
(1) “‘Horsemeat beefburgers’ investigated in UK and Ireland”, BBC News, 16/01/2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21038521
(2) Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, London: Dent, 1995. The incident recounted above appears on pages 27-28.
(3) It is instructive to read the name of this fictional town backwards.
Plans to erect a statue of George Harrison in Henley-on-Thames have been dropped following opposition from The Beatles’ widow, Olivia Harrison. Instead she is reported to favour “a community project in his name.”(1)
This incident reflects longstanding reservations about devoting so much time and money in producing yet another mute monument. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate a life in ways that benefit the present? And is this not all the more necessary in our increasingly digital age?
With this in mind, it is salutary to see the emergence of a collective commemoration of Aaron Swartz (1986-2013).
During his short life this freedom of speech advocate urged people to sign up to his “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto”.
His tragic suicide has given rise to the Twitter trend, #pdftribute whereby academics are encouraged to upload their scholarly papers that are withheld from public circulation due to what Swartz condemned as “the privatization of knowledge”.
The result is a collaborative, politically motivated memorial act that is the antithesis of an effigy on a stone pedestal. It is instead a living, livid legacy that is entirely in keeping with the circumstances that led to the death of Aaron Swartz..
(1) “George Harrison Henley-on-Thames statue campaign halted”, BBC News, 12/01/2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-20997626.
Moderna Museet online (left) and in print (right)
Earlier this month I reflected on a fascinating newspaper advertisement for Sweden’s Moderna Museet. Additional investigation has now turned this commentary into a spot-the-difference.
On the museum’s website is a promotional feature that includes the same image.(i) Only, on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that it differs from the version that appeared in the newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.
1 The invigilator’s clothing has been darkened. This ensures that she wears the attire of the art lover (i.e. dressed entirely in black). The same is true of the trousers worn by the visitor (2).
2 The visitor has been shifted further to the right. In the online image it looks as if she is reading a label next to the work rather than looking at the art itself. This risked introducing a troublesome piece of interpretation – a barrier preventing her from being in the midst of the art (mitt i konsten). This is alleviated by shifting the visitor closer to the art (although not too close given that the all-important pushchair is still in the way).
3 The posture of the hands-on art educator has changed. Her rather motherly pose is replaced by a less overtly protective position in relation to the three children. This prevents her from coming between them and the art (again ensuring that they are mitt i konsten). In the image on the left the children and the facilitator have their back to Sterling Ruby’s Monument Stalagmite. The print version spins them around such that all the group members are oriented towards the sculpture.
All this confirms the meticulous attention that has gone into this carefully crafted framing of Moderna Museet. A genuinely artful and art full advertisement.
(i) “Fira 1:a advent på Moderna Museet”, http://www.modernamuseet.se/sv/Stockholm/Nyheter/2012/Fira-1a-advent-pa-Moderna-Museet/. The image is credited to the photographer, Åsa Lundén.
Today’s issue of the newspaper, Dagens Nyheter features a full-page advertisement for Moderna Museet – Sweden’s national museum of modern and contemporary art. Every art lover knows that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, with this in mind, I’ve picked out ten points of interest and used them to structure a one thousand word reflection on this most artful of advertisements:
1 Moderna Museet is a place of celebration for all. This is important to stress at the outset because some misguided people continue to insist on treating our museums as either mausoleums or bastions of elitist culture. Moderna Museet isn’t like that. It’s a place to come and have fun; to celebrate things like the start of the Christmas period. And what better way to escape the commercialisation of this sacred event than by going on a pilgrimage to a secular temple of art such as Moderna Museet.
2 Moderna Museet puts you in the picture: when there you will be in the midst of art – your art, your museum (mitt i konsten, på ditt museum).
3 The director and his deputy have given up their holiday to greet the visitors. Tomorrow afternoon – Sunday 2 December – Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring will talk about their latest acquisitions. In so doing they affirm that Moderna Museet is living up to its reputation: it is filled both with modern Old Masters (fylld av klassiker) and “with the work of a new generation of artists” (med verk av en ny generation konstnärer). These new works, we are told, “crown the collection” (kröner samlingen). They also enable the recently appointed director to put his mark on the museum. This raises lots of fascinating questions: What has the museum acquired under this leader that it might not have under its predecessor? Which criteria are used when choosing what to buy? Who makes the decisions? What did the purchases cost? Who are the donors? Who are the artists? And what personal connections link them with Birnbaum and his colleagues? Will any of these questions be addressed when the director speaks? They certainly should be, after all, this is your museum.
4 Who are these people so deep in conversation? A perfect pair: enthusiastic gesture is met with rapt attention. These two are clearly art lovers. But they aren’t visitors. Nor are they security guards. Instead they are young, trendy invigilators just waiting to share their love of art with the museum’s well-behaved guests. How do we know that they are art lovers? Their gestures and their clothes say it all (see 6).
5 This isn’t an art lover, but he looks nice and friendly. He’s carrying the tool of his trade and wearing his work clothes (just like the couple in 4). But his place of work isn’t the galleries. Nevertheless, rather than being marginalised, this menial worker is given pride of place. Indeed, he looks rather like a work of art: culinary art. Because Moderna Museet isn’t just about consuming art. It’s a place to eat and socialise. That’s why the chef is important enough to be included here. But he isn’t that special. His name is not given. Nor are those of the two invigilators. In fact, only two people are referred to by their names. And neither of them is visible. Standing in as substitutes for the director and his deputy are the artworks that they have sanctified by choosing to include them in the collections of Moderna Museet. The art stands for them. It embodies them. Thus Sterling Ruby’s Monument Stalagmite could be renamed: Monument Birnbaum. It’s a bold assertion of his fitness to lead; his regal good taste (thanks to this and the other acquisitions that “crown the collection”).
6 This person adopts the ideal art pose, with one hand on hip, the other touching the face in a gesture of deep contemplation. She wears the uniform of the art lover, dressed as she is entirely in black. She is part of the same tribe as the invigilators (4) who serve as acolytes assisting at the altar of High Art. This true believer is standing at a respectful distance from the art, not touching but visually consuming. Unfortunately, she is not able to stand directly in front of this particular artwork because there is an object is in the way. But this is not a sculpture; it’s a child’s pushchair! This obstacle is not just there by chance. It’s as symbolic as any of the paintings on the wall. It says: this is an accessible, family-friendly museum in which children are welcome (see 8).
7 The art is shown in glorious isolation in this pristine, white-cubed gallery. This lends it a spurious, “neutral” quality in which nothing comes between us and the art (we are, after all, “mitt i konsten” (1)). There is not a label or interpretation panel in sight. None of the works are literally framed in the sense of there being borders around the paintings or separate plinths under the sculptures. But they are framed in all sorts of other ways. This advertisement and all its messages (overt and subliminal) are frames. Art never speaks for itself, no matter how white and bare the walls.
8 We have already been reassured that the museum is not a mausoleum (1). Now we are reminded that it is not a library either. It’s a playground – for art lovers, young and old. Perhaps this trio of immaculately behaved children will one day be the artists (or museum directors) of the future? With luck they will grow up to wear black clothes and feel as at home in the museum as the lady in 6. The art instructor – just like the proud parent – does her best to make this a reality: she acts as a mediator of the art. She and the other parents and guardians are surrogates of the invigilators seen in 4. During the years 2004-2011 “Zon Moderna” served as the forum for Moderna Museet’s youngest guests. This initiative has been disbanded by the current director. But he is not reducing the museum’s commitment to children. Far from it: they are now brought into the bosom of the museum (mitt i konsten). Zon Moderna ran the risk of being dismissed as a case of “ghettoisation”: “an area specifically reserved for extra activities, and largely containing children within these spaces” (Gillian Thomas, “‘Why are you playing at washing up again?’ Some reasons and methods for developing exhibitions for children” in Roger Miles & Lauro Zavala (eds) Towards the Museum of the Future: New European Perspectives, London and New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 118.) The kids visible in this advertisement are not relegated to some sort of out-of-sight ghetto: we see them as they are just about to scribble away on the floor of the museum, centimetres from the museum’s latest priceless acquisition (5).
9 The museum’s logo adds to the friendly atmosphere: a personal signature which is actually a work of art, based as it is on Robert Rauschenberg’s handwriting. How long will it be before the museum decides to rebrand and ditch this naff typeface?
10 The museum is open every day except Mondays. There is even free entry on extended Friday evenings – perfect for those trendy young things that opt to stay on to drink in the museum’s newest space: a bar. There was a time when Moderna Museet – like all Sweden’s national museums – was free for all: now adults must pay because the current government says so. But the most important visitors still get in for free, namely children up to 18 years old. With luck, by the time they reach maturity they will have blossomed into the sorts of adults seen in this advertisement. They will thus be willing to pay to enter the museum and reacquaint themselves the fresh acquisitions that are to be introduced tomorrow: these are the works that today’s children will grow up with and later recognise as canonical works in their own personal museums of art. This recognition and sense of ownership will help ease the awkward truth that, by charging its citizens to enter Sweden’s Moderna Museet, they will actually be paying twice. After all, their high taxes have already paid for the museum. Their museum.
Pauline Oliveros, 1968-9 (with modifications)
“Why wasn’t a poet sent to the moon? What if Starwars’ Robot R2-D2 were able to scan the world’s arts for their strengths and weaknesses, making available its output after scanning to aid artists in their search for new aesthetic solutions. What if Starwars translator C-3PO could make translations for audiences in their bewilderment with new forms, translation from one kind of artist to another, or become go-between for scientists, technologists and artists? Would it help? Would it be of redeeming social value?
“The side effects of technology, such as the pollution of our planet and the danger of ultimate destruction, are not solved. Technology breeds the need for more technology which breeds more side effects in a self-perpetuating binge.
“The foresight required for the solutions needed must come not only from the deepest of scientific thought, but also from the deepest of artistic thought. The artistic side of the scientist as well as the scientific side of the artist must continually be cultivated. The artistic scientist and the scientific artist have suffered subjugation by those who have sought power and control at the expense of human and aesthetic values.”
Pauline Oliveros, Software for People: Collected Writings 1963-80, Baltimore: Smith Publications, 1984, p. 176
In 1927 the New York Herald Tribune published an article entitled “The New Biography”.(1) Its author was the novelist and essayist, Virginia Woolf. At the outset she makes the following observation:
the truth which biography demands is truth in its hardest,
most obdurate form; it is truth as truth is to be found in
the British Museum; it is truth out of which all vapour of
falsehood has been pressed by the weight of research.
This statement highlights the longstanding trust that societies place in museums and their tangible collections. Even today these institutions retain their reputation for “hard facts”. And, like a well researched, scholarly biography, it is from this “virtue in truth” that museums derive their “almost mystic power”.
But “truth” alone is not enough: the book-on-a-wall approach to museum display is undoubtedly full of facts, but that doesn’t prevent it from leading to exhibitions that are “dull” or “unreadable”. Woolf realised that, in order to make something interesting and dramatic, “facts must be manipulated”.
The question is, therefore, how far to carry the fiction or toy with the truth?
It strikes me that this is particularly pertinent today as our museums seek to divest themselves of their reputation for being stuffy and scholarly in favour of “dramatic effect”. Yet museum professionals would be wise to heed Woolf’s advice. She realised that sanctioning fewer facts in exchange for the foregrounding of more palatable fictions runs the risk of “losing both worlds”. Because, if visitors begin to lose faith in museums, their “almost mystic power” will slowly ebb away. In its place we might well be left with apparently more accessible and dramatic exhibitions – but even the most fashionable of museums quickly seems “dull” and out-moded in comparison with other forms of popular entertainment.
And a museum without truths and “hard facts” is nothing more than a second rate visitor attraction.
(1) All direct quotations in this post are derived from Woolf’s article, which is reproduced as the final chapter in the fourth volume of her Collected Essays, London, The Hogarth Press, 1967, pp. 229-235.
Yesterday a group of people gathered in Custom House Square, Belfast. They then opened three large freezers, removed 1,517 diminutive frozen figures and began placing them around the square. When the task was complete they stood back and spent the next twenty minutes watching as these human icicles melted before their eyes.
This happening was part of a festival to mark the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
The person responsible for this particular commemorative response was the Brazilian born artist, Néle Azevedo (born 1950). Her poignant idea was entitled, Minimum Monument. It was intended as a celebration of the “ephemeral and diminutive, as opposed to what is monumental and grandiose.”(1)
For instances of the “monumental and grandiose” one might turn to John Blackwood’s book London’s Immortals: The complete commemorative outdoor statues (Savoy Press, 1989). The cover features an individual who exudes monumentality and grandiosity. This is all the more remarkable given that the person being represented is physically frail – so weak in fact that he requires a walking stick to support his gargantuan frame. But his greatness comes from the courage of his convictions rather than the strength of his sinews. The bronze effigy commemorates a man who is seemingly so famous that he requires no elaborate inscription. On the pedestal on which he is placed is but a single word: Churchill.
Statues of this nature are intended to create the illusion of universal acclaim and permanence. This façade came crashing down during my investigations into this sculpture and the other commemorative monuments that surround the Houses of Parliament in London. In the year 2000 a riot broke out where the natural order was inverted: protestors mounted Churchill’s plinth and daubed it with graffiti. In the process they turned the war hero into a bloated warmonger. For a short time this establishment figure became a punk icon (courtesy of the grass mohican draped over his pate).(2)
I wonder what the late, great playwright and author, Dennis Potter would have made of such bad behaviour? I ask because, way back in 1967 in one of his earliest plays for television, Potter took a “swipe at Churchillianism”.(3) Alas, the original recordings of this and two other such works were subsequently deleted by the BBC.
Years later Potter reflected on his vanished play. He dismissed it as “polemical” and “overtly political”, something with which now felt uncomfortable.(4) We are not in a position to judge if he was right to be so self-critical given that the work no longer exists. This makes the title of the play deeply ironic. It was called, Message for Posterity.
That phrase sums up Ivor Roberts Jones’s titanic statue of Churchill that has scowled at parliament ever since its inauguration in 1973.
But messages for posterity do not always have to be like this. They can be more modest and far less bombastic – like Néle Azevedo’s already vanished tribute to the 1,517 lives cut short when the monumental and grandiose prow of the Titanic sank beneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic Ocean.
(1) Nuala McCann, “Poignant ice tribute to Titanic victims”, BBC News, 21/10/2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20020498
(2) For more about this, see my doctoral thesis, On Stage at the Theatre of State: The Monuments and Memorials in Parliament Square, London (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Nottingham Trent University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, March 2003).
(3) Graham Fuller (ed.), Potter on Potter, London, Faber and Faber, 1993, p. 17.
(4) Potter on Potter, pp. 31-32.
A lovely example of “banal Nordism” cropped up in the
BBC Radio 4 comedy programme, Clayton Grange.
In this week’s episode our spectacularly stupid scientists
“attempt to make war just a bit more gentle”
– a bit more Swedish.
Few listeners would suspect that this purportedly
most peaceful place on the planet is in reality the home of
Saab AB, the proud producer of the Carl-Gustaf system –
“the best multi-purpose weapon there is”.
The British Museum possesses many thousands of fascinating objects. One of its self-styled “highlights” is a rather plain looking marble inscription. It comes from Rome and is dated around AD 193-211. What makes it so interesting are the things it does not show. These include the names of two relatives of the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus (AD 145-211), namely his daughter-in-law Plautilla and his son Geta. The latter was murdered by Septimius Severus’ other son Caracalla. He was Plautilla’s husband and Geta’s brother. The two siblings were bitter rivals following the death of their father. It is believed that Caracalla murdered Geta and then had his treacherous and much despised wife executed. And, to make matters even worse, they were then subjected to the posthumous punishment of damnatio memoriae:
their names were expunged from all official records and inscriptions
and their statues and all images of them were destroyed.
This process [damnatio memoriae] was the most horrendous fate
a Roman could suffer, as it removed him from the memory of society.(1)
However, removing Geta from public consciousness was not a straightforward matter. Caracalla was obliged to give his brother a proper funeral and burial due to Geta’s popularity both with the Roman army and among substantial sections of Roman society. This explains why the names of Geta and Plautilla were included on the British Museum’s marble inscription, only to be scratched out later on.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because a modern-day form of damnatio memoriae is currently unfolding in British society. This is in relation to the disc jockey, children’s television presenter and media celebrity, Sir Jimmy Savile OBE, KCSG, LLD (1926-2011). When he died last year at the ripe old age of 84 he was hailed a loveable hero who had done much for charity. Now, however, revelations have come to light suggesting that he was, in the words of the police, a “predatory sex offender”.(2)
As a result, strenuous efforts are being made to expunge him from the public record.(3) Thus, the charity that bears his name is considering a rebrand. A plaque attached to his former home in Scarborough was vandalised and has since been removed. So too has the sign denoting “Savile’s View” in the same town. Meanwhile, in Leeds, his name has been deleted from a list of great achievers at the Civic Hall. A statue in Glasgow has been taken down in an act of officially sanctioned iconoclasm. The same fate has been dished out to the elaborate headstone marking Savile’s grave. This last-named act of damnatio memoriae is in some ways a pity given the unintended poignancy of the epitaph inscribed on the stone: “It Was Good While It Lasted”. It was almost as if Savile knew that he would one day have to atone for his evil deeds.
Atonement has, alas, come too late for those that suffered at the hands of Savile. To make matters worse, his considerable fame has been replaced by a burgeoning notoriety. This is reminiscent of the damnatio memoriae that befell Geta and his sister-in-law Plautilla. The marble inscription that once carried their name is a “highlight” of the British Museum precisely because of the dark deeds associated with them and the futile efforts made to delete them from history. In their case, damnatio memoriae has, in a perverse way, enhanced their posthumous status centuries after their grisly deaths. Let’s hope that the same will not be said of the late Jimmy Savile – an individual who has gone from saint to scoundrel in the space of just a few short months.
(1) “Marble inscription with damnatio memoriae of Geta, son of Septimius Severus” (Roman, AD 193-211, from Rome, Italy, height 81.5 cm, width 47.5 cm, British Museum, Townley Collection, GR 1805.7-3.210, http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/gr/m/marble_inscription.aspx).
(2) Martin Beckford, “Sir Jimmy Savile was a ‘predatory sex offender’, police say”, The Daily Telegraph, 09/10/2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9597158/Sir-Jimmy-Savile-was-a-predatory-sex-offender-police-say.html.
(3) “Jimmy Savile’s headstone removed from Scarborough cemetery” and “Sir Jimmy Savile Scarborough footpath sign removed”, BBC News, 12/10 & 08/10/2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-19893373 and www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-19867893.
A forgotten painting by the little-known American artist, Mark Rothko has been rediscovered at a London museum.
Experts had previously considered Tate Modern’s “Yellow on Moron” to have been executed by the Polish master, Wlodzimierz Umaniec (spelt Vladimir Umanets).
However, a novel technique known as a vandal-spectrometry has enabled scientists to detect traces of crudely applied oil paint beneath Umanets’ trademark scrawl.
This has prompted art historians to rename the work “Black on Maroon” and determine that it is part of Rothko’s abortive Seagram murals.
Inevitably, this reattribution has reduced the value of the piece. It has, however, increased interest in genuine works by Vladimir Umanets. This towering modern-day genius has been likened to the bastard spawn of Marcel Duchamp and Cy Twombly.
Hillsborough: The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel has just been published. This 400-page document investigates an incident which occurred on 15th April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. On that awful day a soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had to be abandoned when the Leppings Lane stand became overcrowded. The ensuing crush led to the death of 96 Liverpool football fans.
This terrible loss of life and the unbearable grief of their loved ones have been compounded over the past 23 years by a deliberate and systematic attempt to cover up what happened. That much is clear from the report released today.
One of its most startling findings relates to the fact that written statements made at the time by police officers and members of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service were altered. Why? The answer is emphatic:
“Some 116 of the 164 [police] statements identified for substantive amendment were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP [South Yorkshire Police].”(1)
In other words, our supposed custodians of law and order – both then and since – have been more interested in their own image and reputation than in finding out what went so catastrophically wrong.
And this, I argue, is why a so-called “academic” subject such as History is so vital to a democratic and viable society. Compare the contemporary example set out above with this quotation from The Historian’s Craft by Marc Bloch:
One of the most difficult tasks of the historian is that of assembling those documents which
he [or she] considers necessary... Despite what the beginners sometimes seem to imagine,
documents do not suddenly materialize, in one place or another, as if by some mysterious
decree of the gods. Their presence or absence in the depths of this archive or that library
are due to human causes which by no means elude analysis. The problems posed by
their transmission, far from having importance only for the technical experts, are
most intimately connected with the life of the past, for what is at stake is nothing less
than the passing down of memory from one generation to another.
Bloch had no need to restrict his attention to “the life of the past”. Because “the passing down of memory from one generation to another” occurs in the here and now. The Hillsborough disaster is history. But its living legacies are life, truth and justice in the present. These qualities should be our memorial to ten-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley who, together with 95 fellow supporters, became the innocent victim of official incompetence, misconduct and suppression on that fateful day in April 1989.
(1) Hillsborough: The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, September 2012, HC 581, London: The Stationery Office, p. 339.
(2) Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004, pp. 57-59.
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.