06:34 GMT13 August 2020
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    Should Statues Be Destroyed?

    Level Talk with John Harrison
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    Statues are once again showing their power – they are at the centre of political protests and struggles the world over. What do we do with the hundreds of thousands of statues which represent ideologies and systems which are no longer practiced – leave them as they are, destroy them in cathartic mass rituals, or put them in special sculpture zoos?

    Two well-known experts on the politics of art join the program: Dr Olga Zinovieva, Professor of Urban Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Moscow State University, an author of books and articles on urban symbolism and urban development; and Dr. Lara Perry, Principal Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton.

    The program starts with a debate on when a piece of sculpture becomes political. Lara asks: "When is a piece of sculpture not political? I think all pieces of sculpture are political, and in particular, pieces of sculpture in the public realm." Olga agrees: "every piece of sculpture is political, whether you have a sculpture of an innocent dog, or of a political leader, it is always a symbolic statement. Because monumental art sends a lot of messages to us humble pedestrians and it all depends who pays for the artist… There may be cases, such as Henry Moore's sculptures, which are abstract, we may associate them with the creativity of the artist who designed and made them, but particularly with large sculpture, it's not just the artists creativity which is important, it is the commission body which provides the sites for them, and pays for the materials, and the materials and the shipping can be particularly expensive…."

    The subject of how and why statues become imbued with so much power, is discussed. Lara questions whether it is the sculptures themselves, or is it that sculptures are the lightening trod, and those feelings have been created by other events?"  Lara points out that when sculptures are erected they undergo a public ritual, during a public event. "There is always a kind of energy which goes into the creation and the installation of a sculpture and the way that it commands a public space. The energy that is expressed in their demolition seems to me to be a mirror of the energy that was expressed in the induction of them." Olga adds that she feels that there is something in our genes, in that we love stone. "We love to touch stone, we love to be with it, stones are very important in the urban environment. That's why we cannot live without monuments; we cannot live without some kind of milestones in urban environments, or something which we do not forget. But some people like to use them in their own interests. With the Robert Lee statue, people became very aggressive, and it is very easy to manipulate masses and address them and to set them against monuments because monuments are full of symbols."

    The question of what to do with statues which have fallen out of vogue is discussed in the second part of the program. Olga says that we should keep the statues where they are, and put notes in front of them to explain that: "this was  a bad guy for example, who killed so many people. In our case, when they started de-Stalinisation in Russia they destroyed all Stalin's images everywhere, in front of train stations, museums, schools, hospitals, they disappeared silently. But I believe that if you had saved them in many places and put special notes explaining who he was, it would have been a much better way of dealing with history." Lara disagrees and says that they should have been completely destroyed. She explains that as we put up a statue when we want to value something or somebody over the value of human memory, "when we decide at a later point that the values of that piece of memory are not consistent with the ones we have in the present, and maybe even are antithetical, or unhelpful to us in the present, then it is our entitlement in the present to decide to reverse the historical claim that was made by that statue. If we put them in a zoo or in a museum then we're not really disavowing that moment. We are putting it into the past, but we are still giving it value." A discussion ensues, with Olga explaining how difficult it is to fill the space which was filled by one statue with another statue, referring to the fact that we are turning the world into post-modern space of simulacra.

    Lara suggests that if statues were to be recycled, there could be ceremonies involved which would be highly cathartic and useful. Olga finishes the program by saying that her imagination leads her into many European squares: "I saw all these monuments, Emperors and Kings and others all galloping out of the squares leaving them empty. They were not innocent creatures, they killed a lot of people, they colonised America, Africa and other continents, it is a very difficult question: what do we do with all these beautiful sculptures?, sometimes they are not pieces of high art, but they are representative of certain historical moments, and it is very easy to change history, you know they rewrite history textbooks, but monuments prevent us from doing that."

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    statues, historical monuments, Protests, Riots, ideology, politics, history, art
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