Sunday, 25 August 2013

Alison Lapper

I don't like Marc Quinn's retrospective at the Cini Foundation. The best work there is over ten years old; and the more recent stuff seems tired, derivative and ugly. I say this to demonstrate that I'm not some sort of Quinn fanboy who'll defend every last piece of his to the death.

More interesting to my mind is his giant inflatable sculpture outside, just next to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Entitled "Breath", it hasn't gone without comment.

It originated as a life-size marble sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square nearly a decade ago, entitled "Alison Lapper Pregnant". Lapper is an English artist who was born with phocomelia (not due to thalidomide, as is sometimes reported). She has no arms, and her legs are truncated at the knee. She was institutionalised throughout most of her childhood. As an adult, she faced a battle to prevent her son from being taken into care, social services believing that a mother faced with  everyday challenges such as hers could not possibly take care of a child as well. She would kick your arse if you dared to feel sorry for her or use words such as "inspirational" within earshot.

None of this, of course, means that "Breath" is any good. But whether it is, or is not, any good as a work of art is beside the point. Because most of the criticism of the piece isn't about its merits as a sculpture but, rather, as to whether it should be where it is.

It's purple. Well yes it is, undeniably so. It's hardly bright day-glo purple though. Would it make any difference if it was made of pink Verona marble?

It's too big. Yes, it's big, but it's still dwarfed by the adjacent church. Besides, its scale is important : would you like it to be just a little bit smaller and tucked away somewhere less visible? Tough, says Quinn : if you find the image disturbing, that's your problem.

It's out of place : If you look back towards the centro storico from San Giorgio Maggiore, to the left of the Ducal Palace, your eyes will fall upon the Sansovino library. Or rather, they won't, as one side of it is entirely obscured by a billboard for Gucci sunglasses. So what's out of place?

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you like Quinn or not. It doesn't matter if you like "Breath" or not. What we have here is an image of a pregnant woman next to a church. If you find it ugly, or upsetting, or out of place...ask yourself why...

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