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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hideous Public Art: Copenhagen edition

Political circuses bring out the crazies - remember the anti-globalization clowns that show up at every G8 summit or the bottled-water-sipping Marxists with their giant puppets at the Republican convention in New York in 2008? These events also bring out the so-called artists who use the world media's fickle attention to showcase their meagre talents. The Copenhagen climate summit is no different, and true to form it is producing the worst kind of Hideous Public Art - the kind that's political.

Bruce Bawer, one of my favourite writers, is covering the summit for Pajamas Media. He is struck by the "Cult of the Dear Leader" vibe that is so pervasive in Copenhagen during the conference:

Of course, everything here in Copenhagen seems to be proceeding as planned. The show must go on. All over town, the message being trumpeted is the same one reiterated in Sunday’s Times: that the science of this stuff is all settled, period, and that all that remains is to act. Indeed it’s being trumpeted so loudly and ubiquitously that Copenhagen, on second thought, doesn’t feel so much like the Vatican as it does, say, Havana or Pyongyang. Stroll around awhile and you’ll keep encountering giant banners or posters or displays designed to ensure that the great unwashed don’t lose sight of the orthodoxy to which they’re expected to pay mindless obeisance. On the side of one church, for example, a banner three stories high proclaims that it’s “TIME FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE.” There are also endless outsized placards — inspired, I suspect, by Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric – bearing the unfortunate coinage “HOPENHAGEN.” Barfsville. I don’t remember where, if anyplace, I’ve ever seen so many huge, fancy banners. Not to mention the big, splashy, World’s Fair-style displays — among them a giant globe in City Hall Park — which certainly must be using up plenty of electricity. Wasting resources is OK, it seems, when you’re engaged in a noble struggle against wasting resources.

Is it a stretch, by the way, to drag Pyongyang into this? I don’t think so. You know that famous picture of Earth at night, which shows the civilized countries ablaze with light while North Korea is pitch dark? That darkness, after all, is what these characters are proposing for all of us, and for our posterity: international agreements that would create a brave new world in which we’d sit in our feebly lit little bathrooms using one miserable square of Soviet Union-style toilet paper per visit while thinking about all the places we might be traveling to if we still had the right to fly airplanes. Meanwhile these climate kings, these would-be Masters of the Universe (and I can only hope Tom Wolfe is planning to write a novel about them at this very moment), exempt from their own draconian edicts, would continue to jet around the world on private Gulfstreams, attending one pointless conference like this one after another.
Meanwhile, the artists are hard at work. The National Gallery of Denmark is showing a collection of work called RETHINK: Contemporary Art and Climate Change which features such masterpieces as Acid Rain by Nigerian artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke. Eke's work "uses water as a metaphor for the universal source of all life":

His installation Acid Rain consists of numerous suspended, teardrop-shaped bags filled with water and carbon. The work reflects Bright’s experience with rain in polluted areas, particularly in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria.

Canada's own Bill Burns has a piece in the exhibit entitled Safety Gear for Small Animals, which consists of "safety vests, helmets, goggles and the like all scaled down to the size of mice, frogs and birds".

The piece de resistance, though, is a massive bronze sculpture titled Survival of the Fattest, which has been erected in the harbour right next to Copenhagen's most famous landmark, the Little Mermaid.

Sculpted by Jens Galschiot, it comes with the following inscription:

I’m sitting on the back of a man.
He is sinking under the burden.
I would do anything to help him.
Except stepping down from his back
In case you didn't get the incredibly obvious symbolism, the organization responsible for the installation has this guide for the perplexed on its website:

The sculpture ’Survival of the Fattest’ is a symbol of the rich worlds (i.e. the fat woman, ‘Justitia’) self-complacent ‘righteousness’. With a pair of scales in her hand she sits on the back of starved African man (i.e. the third world), while pretending to do what is best for him.
The deliberate juxtaposition next to the Little Mermaid is also explained:

The little Mermaid is a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen and one of the most important symbols in Denmark. It is a part of the Danish idea of them selves as a small, cosy nation where the living is good, but where we are also doing our bit to help the world that surrounds us. This is, of course, only a fairytale.
Of course. The sculpture was originally displayed in London in 2004 as a symbolic protest against globalization and free trade, but hey - its all good in the fight against capitalism, right?

It's hard to parody the juvenile "symbolism for beginners" in political art like this. Artists seem to go through an obligatory anti-establishment phase as students (often while collecting state subsidies) but apparently a lot of them never grow out of it.

I'll leave the last word on Survival of the Fattest to Jesse Walker at Reason Magazine:

[The sculpture] has prompted a rather histrionic reaction from Americans for Limited Government, which declared the art "obscene," insisted that the West should be "depicted as generous benefactors" instead, and urged President Barack Obama to "demand that the statue be promptly removed." It's an odd response, given that the sculpture neatly encapsulates the developing world's objections to international climate controls. The statue shows a west that industrialized, got rich and fat, then passed rules that restrain the rest of the world; western leaders appear as hypocrites who will "do anything to help" the global poor except getting off their backs. That sounds like a call for freedom, not regulation.


Patsplace said...

Fantasy & role playing games by starry eyed leftists. Am I missing something, or does anyone, anywhere take them seriously.

Anonymous said...

I think it is terrible to debase the lovely Mermaid like this. If they had any courage they would show her with a burka over her as in burka Barbie. That would show political courage. I'm sure Danemark has more and more Islamic immigrants pushing for Sharia law.

Anonymous said...

"I am a middle-aged gay libertarian Conservative, living in dignified isolation in rural Eastern Ontario, Canada"

I am a fat, lonely, untraveled, un educated, self loathing gay hick Philistine, whose political understanding of the world was aborted in its infancy.

There i fixed that for you! You're welcome.

Eric said...

Anonymous (9:59 AM):

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