With spring now in our midsts, the string of public art projects targeted towards tourist-heavy summer seasons are opening across the world’s major urban metropolises, each seeking to turn heads while also offering a unique comment on public space and perhaps public discourse. This year, the biennial sculpture project has opened its newest iteration, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz’s striking re-creation of a lamassu, the winged creature of ancient Assyrian myth that guarded the gates of Nineveh.
The guardian creatures as presented here are created as a tribute to history lost, after the original sculptures were destroyed by ISIS militants during their occupancy of the ancient site. Video circulates online of the insurgent forces drilling the faces off these figures, and smashing them to rubble. Rakowitz, horrified by this symbolic destruction, turned to the original figure as a source of inspiration, both in the ability for humanity and human creativity to persevere through catastrophic moments of crisis, and in the conviction towards remembering the wars in Iraq as much for the lives lost as the objects that have been destroyed. “As the artifacts disappeared, I was waiting for the loss to translate into outrage and grief for lost lives, but it didn’t happen. So I had the idea of these lost artifacts coming back as ghosts to haunt us,” he says of the work.
The work, as a result, is not made from stone, but is instead presented as a ghostly simulation, made cheaply from papier mache and plaster and then covered over with 10,500 cans of date syrup. This syrup, indicative of both the modern and historical food culture of Iraq, stands as a striking fusion of urgent necessity and ghostly, cast-off material. In the same way that these discarded food packages find their way to the trash, they emerge again here in the form of another cultural signifier relegated to the waste bin. This ghost, standing sentry over Trafalgar Square while gazing out longingly towards the Middle East, seems to be a perfect work for 2018, one that seeks to mitigate the losses of the past, while never shying away from the violence and trauma that caused this same loss.
The statue will remain on view until 2020.
— D. Creahan
Fourth plinth: how a winged bull made of date syrup cans is defying Isis [The Guardian]
Fourth plinth review – ‘My heart is in my mouth’ [The Guardian]
Sculpture of Winged Bull Destroyed by ISIS Is Recreated for London’s Fourth Plinth [NYT]