Artist Liane Lang went on a hunt to find the women who have been remembered with statues in public spaces across Europe. The rulers and writers, revolutionaries and scientists, nurses and nuns. Unreliable estimates put the number of women at between 0.5 and 2% of total statues. The search took her to town squares and suburban parks, finding often well hidden busts from different eras and of varying artistic quality. The artist’s journey engaged not only with the women who have statues but with the idea of the personal monument, the figure as an object of memory and the fragility of objects and legacies.
Lang recorded every statue she found, staged interventions for large scale photographs and made prints on stone, bronze and wood. The project invites the viewer to take a closer look at these often overlooked objects and to consider their ambitions and their failures.
Robert Musil famously said that public monuments have the ability to become invisible, despite their often extravagant efforts to be unmissable. They manage to embody both the desire for eternal glory and the ultimate fate of most to be cast into oblivion and forgotten entirely.
Figurative statues can’t prevent history from being mis-told and misremembered, but as objects they certainly tend to outlive their sitters, their commissioners and often their message. They form part of the architecture and clutter of a city, tunnelling their way into our subconscious and reminding us of a select few of the many lives that have shaped our world for us, for better or for worse. Statues always speak of power and propaganda, though the object can subvert its intentions and change its significance over time.
Lang has visited London, Berlin, Athens, Madrid, Paris, Budapest and Rome. Her collection of images is still growing and the narratives are many layered including the history of sculpture, of fashion, the traditions of monarchy, the role of religion and the changing use of public space. The women that meet here all had to negotiate a difficult environment for their ambitions and ideas and encountered many similar obstacles, whether they were queens or revolutionaries.
Lang’s fascination with the figure in sculpture, it’s power to animate, personify, unsettle and amuse is pursued in Glorious Oblivion. The artist collaborated with art historians, city guides and local people to bring together more than 200 images.
Shard of Ecstasy, Santa Teresa, print on marble, 2021
Queen Mary at the Old Bailey
In 1972 an IRA bomb hot this venerable old court, with it's lovely marble walls and statues and infused with the anguish and despair of generations. Behind the photographer is William of Orange, Mary's husband, who Northern Irish loyalists remember in their annual marches.
The Visit, Mary Wollstonecraft Memorial on Newington Green, London 2020
Comfort at last, Sor Juana, Madrid, 2018
Beleaguered, Marie D'Anjou, Paris St Denis
Thinking (Hannah Arendt, Budapest) 2019, pigment print on lead, steel, 130 x 50cm
Cecilia, 2018, print on blue marble, 40 x 20cm
Brandy Nan ( Queen Anne outside St Paul's Cathedral) 2020
Brandy Nan Brandy Nan left in the lurch, her front to the gin shoppe her back to the church. (18th Century poem)
Not much sympathy was had for poor queen Anne who was pregnant 18 times and didn't manage to raise an heir to adulthood. Anyone would seek solace in mother's ruin.
Joan of Arc's statue in the Louvre by Francois Rude shows the saintly warrior as a confused young girl.
Idea for an Opera (Deryne, Budapest) Video by James Freemann
Fighting Fires, Video by James Freemann
Traces, Video by James Freemann