Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Figure 11 Concept

Since posting news of the AFAS contemporary show 'Out of Line', several friends have asked me about the conceptual basis of my piece 'Figure 11'. 

Briefly I have first tried to highlight the duality that exists in the modern use of anthropomorphic targets: they are both 'enemies' and 'friends'.  They represent real enemies but are also a means of ensuring safety through superior training.  I have also tried to underline the universality of this particular target form - used by so many forces throughout the world.  To enhance this aspect I have imagined that Figure 11 has a very ancient history (actually the image was first dsigned in about 1948).  To that end I have enjoyed making allusive references to elements of British myths and writings, particularly to Malory's Morte D'Arthur, the Gododdin, contemporary accounts of the Boudiccan (Iceni) revolt, the Mabinogion, etc.  I have also made use of various carved and written forms such as Etruscan, Early Roman Cursive and Ogham, to lend accuracy to some of the assertions. 

The term 'hostis humani generis' was originally established in the early days of the Roman empire to refer to pirates - effectively 'stateless persons' - and I believe the term is still used in legal circles today.  The other text (hic iacet instar undecim, hostis quondam hostisque futurus) is a straight lift from Malory but substituting 'hostis' for 'rex' and of course 'instar undecim' for 'Arthurus'. 

The 18 shot holes are 9mm in diameter - the calibre of a modern pistol and the thickness of a Roman auxiliary's arrow shaft.  Five of the shot holes are in the traditional position of Christ's wounds.  The Chi Rho symbol and other scratchings (eg Dux Brit) are all designed to add to the illusion.  I could not resist the quote from Aneirin (seinnyessit e gledyf vm penn mameu).  It appears on the title page of David Jones's In Parethesis, my favourite long prose poem and one of the greatest war poems ever written.  I also allude to Isaiah 53v5, not just to increase the sense of antiquity but also to heighten the importance of Figure 11's role in our lives.  'He was wounded for our transgressions' strikes a chord in the context of continuing strife around the world.  We should not need Figure 11 but we do. 

One thing I like about contemporary art is the use of words as 'signs' in many of the works.  This is discussed at length in the preface to David Jones's 'Anathemata' (1952).  Such signs are very personal but if one can find a common foreknowledge (the Germans have a special word for this but I can't remember what it is - vorausgesehen does not sound right) then there is the possibility of communicating through commonly recognised signs.  This is partly what I have tried to do but as Geoffrey Hill has pointed out in many of his poems, words are very  'slippery', whereas marks on the canvas are all too permanent.  Maybe the ambiguity inherent in language actually increases the chance of a meaningful relationship between the work of art and its public?

I hope that helps but part of the purpose of the piece was to invite thought - so I did not want anything to be too clearly said.

I have enjoyed the technical challenges immensely and was gratified at the PV night to be asked how such a large tomb brass could be cast.  I eventually admitted that these days one can do wonders with mdf, gilding wax, acrylic and marble dust!

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