No sculpture’s meaning is set in stone, says Craig Francis Power
This February, the City of St. John’s invited proposals for a new public sculpture to be installed at the east end of George Street, close to the Trinity pub. My proposal was for a neon pink erect latex penis to be installed there, eight feet tall—as a testament to the wonderfully macho culture of testosterone-fueled violence and sexual assault that so seductively entertains and delights our citizens and the many tourists who flock to that fabled street. Just think of the tourist photo-ops, people! It will be glorious.
I keep waiting for that contract and cheque to come in the mail from the City. No word yet.
My previous work as an artist and writer has often dealt with the friction between the official culture of the state (in this case Newfoundland) and the unofficial culture of its inhabitants as manifested in graffiti, vandalism, and vagrancy in the public sphere. People interact with public sculpture, for example, in a way that reveals a tension between official and unofficial culture.
With the news of the passing of Hobo Bill, my heart was warmed by memories of how the City removed park benches from the tiny patches of green area in downtown to discourage people from having a public place to sleep. Mmm! The warmth of St. John’s City Council is indeed quite legendary. The former patch of grass on the corner beside the Cotton Club where Mr. Cherniwchan slept has been neatly paved over with bright, white concrete. It’s just great to look at, and sleeping on it now must do wonders for your back.
It’s become a kind of memorial in its own right, given that, before he died, Bill most often chose that place to sleep.
This call from the city is another project made possible by St. John’s designation as a Cultural Capital of Canada—the very same portal through which the big titted mermaids marched out of last summer. Julia Pickard, famed for Scottish brogue and flower paintings, had her mermaid removed from its place on Duckworth close by to the LSPU Hall due to continued instances of vandalism. It seems the well-endowed ladies of the sea were just too tempting for some of us to resist.
Further evidence of our city’s sexual frustration is demonstrated in at least two other public sculpture sites in the downtown.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen some Billy or Johnny or Ricky humping the back end of one of Jim Maunder’s fish wives (Making Fish) outside the St. John’s Convention Centre to the great amusement of his drinking buddies. “Give’r, b’y, give’r!”
Likewise, for the animal lovers among us, Harbourside Park provides bronze statues celebrating our province’s two famous breeds of dog, the hindquarters of which seem impossible to resist for many an inebriated visitor. Man’s best friend, indeed!
My favourite piece of public sculpture in St. John’s would have to be Luben Boykov’s bronze depiction of a little girl doing arithmetic on her fingers. Apparently based on the artist’s daughter, Illyana, the piece—at the corner of Military and King’s Road, beside Moo Moo’s and the Market—operates as a monument to the 250-year history of children playing in that area. It stands in opposition to the self-important, reverential atmosphere other monuments attempt to impose.
Thankfully, I’ve never witnessed the dear girl being maligned much by drunken hump-meisters. Though I have seen the occasional Labatt Lite or Pepsi can wedged into her little hands.
So, the point is that there’ll hopefully be a new piece of statuary to puke on or pass out behind in the coming months on George Street. As the days get longer, the sun seems brighter than it did only weeks before, and as the reproductive glands kick into high gear, here’s hoping that, dear reader, as you stagger through the streets of downtown, loaded out of your mind, you’ll pause to take in the rich cultural tapestry of the City of Legends as embodied in its public sculpture.
And, if my proposal is accepted by the City, take a bunch of photos beside a neon pink johnson.