Works of art are sometimes a focus for the larger discomforts in society. My Dirty Corner at Versailles has such a fate. It has been reviled in the press as the "Queen’s vagina” or the “vagina on the lawn” and has seemingly given offence to certain people of the extreme political right wing in France.
In Art – What you see is not What you get. The verisimilitude of the art object fools us; "this is not a pipe" of Rene Magritte – reminds us that a good work of art receives all interpretations but settles on none.
The vicious voice of the few has commanded too much of the debate and has even drawn in good thinking people. It has now resulted in an act of vandalism to the work. I am left with a question about how I should react. Should the paint that has been thrown all over the sculpture be removed? Or should the paint remain and be part of the work? Does the political violence of the vandalism make Dirty Corner “dirtier”? Does this dirty political act reflect the dirty politics of exclusion, marginalisation, elitism, racism, Islamophobia etc. The question I ask of myself is: can I the artist transform this crass act of political vandalism and violence into a public creative aesthetic act? Would this not then be the best revenge?
In asking this question I am aware of the power of art and its ability to offend. Dirty Corner is in some ways itself an act of artistic violence. It attempts to lay bare the tidy surface of Le Nôtre’s Versailles. It engages in a disruptive conversation with Versailles's geometric rigidity. It looks under the carpet of Le Nôtre’s “Tapis Vert” and allows the uncomfortable, even the sexual.
Political violence however is not the same as artistic violence. This political vandalism uses an “art material” (paint) to make actual violence. It could have been a bomb or a hood thrown over someone’s head to kidnap them. Artistic violence is generative, political violence destructive. Artistic violence may scream at the tradition of previous generations. It may violently overturn what was before but in so doing it follows a long tradition of re-generation. It always, however, advances the language of art. Political violence, seeks erasure. Its aim is the removal of the offending idea, person, practice or thing. Simplistic political views are offended by the untidiness of the art object. In this context Art must be seen as obscene and destroyed.
19 June 2015