Facing the Monument: Facing the Future

11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Monumental Misconceptions: The Artist as Liberator of Forgotten Art

12 May 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Imagine if you will a typical Soviet-era statue (take your pick from heroic worker, soldier or leader). Among the desired emotional reactions are admiration, faith in the regime, even fear perhaps. I certainly remember feeling some of these when confronted with such statues; that is, before coming across artist Liane Lang’s work, ‘Monumental Misconceptions’.

Liane Lang, In the Way, 2009

In 2009, London-based Lang took up an artist's residency in Budapest’s Memento Sculpture Park (a resting place for discarded monumental sculptural works that were ripped down after communism fell in Hungary). While there she integrated life-size cast figures into the original bronze sculptures scattered about the park, forming what the artist refers to as ‘interventions’. These altered statues were were then photographed to produce wonderfully confusing and contemplative images. The mischievous positioning of the inserted figures throws into juxtaposition the life-size and the monumental and the (convincingly) animate and inanimate, forcing you to re-examine these historical relics in a new context. Some interventions add humour; others are subtler, adding tenderness and a touch of humanity. The female figure cradled across a handshake in in ‘Support Group’ below, entirely changes how we see what is otherwise a stern and masculine gesture. 

As all 42 sculptures in the park are male and all of Lang’s figures female, I wondered if she had consciously decided to address feminist issues. When I put the question to her, she said that as a was female artist this was perhaps inescapable. She explained that it was a deliberate decision to introduce women who were very non-heroic and vulnerable, thereby heightening the contrast between intervention and statue.

Liane Lang, Support Group, 2009

During the interview I had the chance to further probe Lang’s motivations behind ‘Monumental Misconceptions’. Far from setting out to criticise communism, the artist was interested in raising the question of how context and history can influence our perception. Lang strongly believes that all art is made under the constraints dictated by the time it is made in; the constraints peculiar to Soviet-era sculpture are obvious, but she argues that there is no such thing as absolute artistic freedom even in today’s democracies. So, what then happens to an artwork's meaning once its original context has receded to the distant path? Should our treatment of it change? Lang’s work aims to set the viewer’s mind ticking along these lines, while bestowing a new context on the original Soviet sculptures. 

An echo of these ideas can be found in a quote from Budapest’s Memento Sculpture Park’s architect and founder, Akos Eleod: ‘This park is about dictatorship, but as soon as it has been talked about, described and built, it is already about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide the opportunity for us to think freely about dictatorship, or about democracy, come to that, or about anything.’

Liane Lang, The Parachutist, 2009

All images are courtesy of the artist. A book based around Monumental Misconceptions titled ‘Amnesiac Patina’ will be available from 18th July 2014, and works from the series are currently on show at the Musee Beaux Arts Calais.

The exhibition runs until August 2014.

Rachel Hajek