On donne l’idée du vrai avec du faux
Learn to say about yourself and your friends what you say about your enemies.
You raised a statue to Bellatrix Sakakino. This was fitting indeed, considering Sakakino’s seminal influence on the New Statuary movement. But it also went without saying that we found the thing intolerable. I organized a protest with the aim of knocking it down. We assembled two blocks away and began marching.
Early in her career, Sakakino endeared herself to us with a monument to Josephine Serre, history’s first woman dentist. The statue was lauded for its unearthly grace, but drew controversy for what it was made of: tens of thousands of human teeth fused together with epoxy. Some found it poetic; others, repulsive. We in the art world were smitten.
Next came Sakakino’s marriage of technology and emotional resonance: her celebration of environmentalist Rachel Carson. Sakakino erected a statue in the Mojave Desert formed of perpetual ice—the symbolism was not subtle—kept frozen from within by an innovative cooling system powered, aptly, by solar energy. It became a site of pilgrimage for climate change activists and a beacon of hope in the face of slow global catastrophe.
Finally, her magnum opus: the Humanity Monument. AI-driven stone-cutting robots developed in cooperation with MIT would produce statues of every human being alive. Her algorithms scoured supermassive image banks originally compiled for facial recognition and surveillance software, collecting photographic material of all of humanity. With superhuman speed and precision, the robots extrapolated three-dimensional models from the photos and began carving what promised to be the most democratic and inclusive project of commemoration in history.
Then we learned that Sakakino’s lawyers were quietly claiming that, by producing original artwork, she might claim copyright over the likenesses of all living persons. Legal experts differed vociferously on whether this was even possible. It didn’t matter; the project collapsed in scandal.
Sakakino’s troubles didn’t end there. Rumors surfaced that the cooling system of the Carson ice statue was not fully solar-powered. Sakakino’s denials were rendered moot when the Earth Liberation Front detonated charges that cut the hidden connection to the San Bernardino County electrical grid and the statue promptly melted.
Six months later, the Washington Post broke the story of a human trafficker in Thailand who had admitted to harvesting thousands of teeth from unwilling donors on behalf of a certain up-and-coming sculptor half a world away. A victims’ rights group marched on the Serre statue and tore it down; shaky smartphone footage of the event went viral.
Our group of angry activists looked not unlike those in that iconic video. The same outrage, the same determination. You and I met at the base of the pedestal as my team began throwing grappling hooks. “This statue is a monument to all the beauty she created!” you shouted at me, tears gleaming on your cheeks.
I was having none of it. “What about the lies? The pain and suffering?”
The heavy bronze statue toppled to the street with a tremendous bang. “You’re a shitheel!” you screeched, swinging your billy club at my head.
I dodged and, barely missing you with my taser, shouted back, “You’re a dumbfuck!” But I regretted this at once. Despite all our quarrels over the years, I knew your heart to be good. Wondering what to say, I recollected a statement Sakakino once made in an interview for The New Statuary Journal shortly after the Carson statue was no more, her tone resigned, even poetic: The problem with statues is the same as the problem with people. They deserve to be raised up, yet we are obliged to knock them down.
I quoted this to you, thinking to score a point in the debate. You knocked me down.