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Fr. 356

June 29, 2013

Consider the case of a statue and its vicissitudes. If the physical or material composition and form of a statue are unaltered by its move from one place to another, it is not, however, clear that this does not thereby alter the statue’s effective composition. What is meant by the expression “effective composition” here? More simply,  this captures the way the statue intersects and interacts with its surroundings, as well as the symbolic value that it comes to have in virtue of its interaction with the nearby as well as passersby. Our question is then: does a statue remain the same statue once placed out of that context in which it was originally raised?

Take the example of an equestrian statue of Wilhelm II. At one time, this statue might have been raised in a public place in one of those frontier cities occupied after the Franco-Prussian War. The significance, which this statue would have in virtue of being raised in a highly visible, central area, would naturally change were it to have been raised in a German city of the same period. Where, in the foreign, this same statue connotes conquest, oppression and domination, in the homeland, such a statue would bring with it associations of pride, glory and state. Had it been instead raised in or moved to a park, it might suggest respectively that the kaiser had been a lover of peace, of parks, of nature or that his role of dominator in this place had transitioned to a more subdued role, the founder and protector of green spaces in lieu of the former military connotations. Likewise, had it been moved to a little-visited back alley, this might show the measure of derision or contempt that the community had for the kaiser, for there could be no reason to leave the statue where, hypothetically, it might be seen by all and, yet, effectively, speaking seen by none. Again, had it been moved to a museum, this might express an objective will to conserve. Finally, had the kaiser’s statue been broken up into pieces and then moved to a museum, one might consider this conservation effort still otherwise, perhaps as a more subjective or even objective manner of conserving and (re)presenting the past.

The examples might be further multiplied in considering the statue of an artist that had undergone the same moves and subsequent shifts in significance. Or, to add still to the examples, one could consider the case of a sculpture that had once adorned the facade of a cathedral. Without further precision, its meaning would depend on its positioning in relation to other pieces on that same facade, which would serve to determine its relative importance within the whole. In short, a change of position would entail a change in importance. Furthermore, just as a move about the facade would entail a change in meaning, so would its move to a place in a park, in an office or in a waiting room. In the end, what results of all of this is that the meaning of a sculpted piece is not merely a function of its material composition and form but rather of its juxtapositions and, hence, the meaning that this piece effectively comes to hold for those who come into contact with it, by sight, touch, hearsay or otherwise, for the context of a statue’s placement has as much to do with its interactive and resultant meaning as the content of the statue itself. Location, location, location.

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