Images and Vision
In 1992 a major statue of one of the founders of Canadian confederation (Sir John A. Macdonald) was decapitated in a local park in Montreal. Although the statue was rusty and neglected, the decapitation provoked a major outcry from Canadian federalists. To make matters worse, the decapitated head was stolen. Two years later no effort has been made to replace the statue or repair it. Pigeons now roost on the remains, and the statue has deteriorated further. From time to time journalists have commented on the loss, and some private citizens have banded together to raise funds to have a new head made. But the symbolism of the gesture will never be forgotten, nor will this symbolic death of the federal spirit in Quebec simply disappear if and when the statue is restored. In a sense this sculpture, both in its full and fragmented form, stands for historical realities that transcend its status as an object and are a clue to its transformation into an image. The aura of the statue (negative or positive) seems to bring history, the former prime minister, and notions of the nation state into a synoptic grid, from which many different meanings can be drawn.
So complex is this interplay, so naturalized are its underlying premises, that the task of "writing" about this history of the image of Sir John A. Macdonald will be richly endowed from the start. It will move through a number of sometimes contradictory and sometimes connected levels of meaning, creating a sphere of relationships in constant need of interpretation and reinterpretation. The process will oscillate between the micro-historical and the macrohistorical, and the terms of that interaction will produce new and different relationships dependent on the context of analysis and the subjective choices of the interpreter. In other words, the statue is at once a powerful presence and an incidental component of what we do to it, the basis for a hierarchy of interpretations, and the reason we tear at the statue's foundations.
"The attempt to grant a statue an apprehending ear, a voice, even a motivated silence of its own, can become an occasion to redream the possibilities of speech. That attempt puts language and silence (as well as the statue) on trial; it lets us examine what piety or care, what violence or emptiness, words