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The Monumental Cycle of Life

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Monuments come and ago as the conflict continues to unfold. It’s the eternal battle of ideas, some aworth the brass they’re made of, some probably not.

Bowling Green, site of the downed statue of King George III. Behind, the US Custom House with the allegorical “Four Continents” by Daniel Chester French.

The equestrian figure of King George III on Bowling Green was downed by a group of New Yorkers following a reading of the newly adopted Declaration of Independence. The monument was later repurpose as ammunition to fight his subjects in uniform. The fact that it was made of lead made it even more convenient. Lead flights faster and further when propelled by the explosion of a charge of blackpowder.


Clausewitz was wright, war is a continuation of politics by other means and the opposite is also correct just as monuments are a continuation of war by other means and the opposite is also correct. I’m thinking of Robert E. Lee, but also of Somoza, Franco, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Perón and yes, Lewis and Clark which just happened to stand in Charlottesville when the craze to melt brass to make other statues was gaining traction among its most progressive minded citizens. Of course I would not be thinking about any of this if it wasn’t because I’m up to my neck on a documentary film project about Daniel Chester French, sculptor. Sculptures have a funny to express themselves in mysterious ways. And no, French has not yet fallen under the guillotine of the illuminati, but the mere fact that he was a man of his time might eventually bring his work into question. It will be absurd, but I would‘t dare to rule out the absurd.

If King George was made into bullets, it were canons used during the Civil War that were repurpose to cast The Minuteman, French’s first commission commemorating the centennial of the Revolution. I like the idea of this endless loop, possibly a monument erected with obsolete weaponry is eventually used to fabricate more canons that one day will become monuments to new heroes. We love heroes more that we love monuments.

We often know very little about what happens in between but, truth be said, we are at times faced with bits and pieces, circumstantial evidence, reliquaries, ruins that serve to reconstruct the past, a statue that no longer is there, a Roman Forum, a Mayan lost village in the Colombian jungle.


Sheley talked about a traveler who found vestiges of a tribute to Ozymandia in the desert And this is what he had to say:


“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 shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked 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.”

If Ozymandias (aka Ramses II) was preserved for the traveler to find is because it could’n be melt. The poem improbably inspired the opening scene of Planet of the Apes with the what was left of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps the destruction of Ozymandias was a good thing, unless you were enslaved by the monarch in which case you might want to teach the world a lesson at a time in which lessons, mostly due to the absence of Instagram, were taught using statues strategically placed in public places in spite or before the proverbial Exodus 20:3 gained any traction with its warning about idols, and “other gods before me”. But what do I know, I’m an atheist.


Another curious example of the implications of dismembered monuments is clearly suggested in Sibylle Bergemann’ “The Monument”, a graphic documenting several phases of the production and installation of the Marx-Engels-Forum monument in East Berlin. Bergemann’s work is currently being exhibited at the MOMA. His photograph show the sculpture, created by Ludwig Engelhardt, and intended to express the idea that socialism is historically German. However, the pictures resonate with quiet irony: it sometimes appears as though the monument is being dismantled rather than constructed-an allegory for the ultimate fate of the German Democratic Republic. I suspect statues, and monuments in general, have a lot more to say than we give them credit for.




It will probably be right to assume that the proxy war of monuments is a continuation of the Civil War by other means, and it that case will be fare to assume that the war didn’t end and that Reconstruction was but an intermission in a mini-series of sorts now on the air with a new season and grand finale. And if all of the above is correct we might be entering a new chapter in the ongoing conflict, one in which deranged rioters stab police officers with flag poles on the steps of the US Capitol. It’s hard to tell, but what seems clear is that public monuments will remain at the center of all possible arguments. They will continue to be erected and repurpose. If I recall correctly, and I’m writing without Goggle at hand, only inspired by the gentle breeze of this winter afternoon in Charlottesville, it was mustached Dali who once said that there is nothing in the world as old as the vanguards.

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