Throughout archaeological practice, much has been written on the meaning and significance of monumental architecture, sculptures and statue as every culture/society has made public artwork that has survived long after the society itself. Public artwork is one of the ways society adds meaning to places and to the people. As Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance” and Sir Joshua Reynolds, “A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts” (McDowall 2011, Forbes). Thus a place can be imagined as a room and statue/ sculptures can be imagined as symbols of significance which give people thought, invokes a particular relationship to people and to constructions of place, both real and imagined. Therefore, public sculptures have primacy in an understanding of a culture, place, and people.
This paper explores some of the public sculptures and statue that were excavated from the remains of the McMaster University campus after the catastrophe of 2016 which left it abandoned. I believe that beginning with the public artwork, we are able to gleam the cultural significance of art as well as the meaning that the artwork evokes. I argue that these sculptures and the statue are symbols of power that both traverse and transform time, enmeshing the past into the present, but also give ideological significance to a representation of culture and history that bounds people to a common culture and community as well as inciting belonging. I look to use practice theory as well as structuration and phenomenology to bring meaning to the artifacts while considering all stakeholders involved, giving a way to model ancient processes with attention to “the intentions of past actors and the role of existing structures in shaping people’s actions as well as the community” (Joyce, 2004: 5).
Situating theory in practice
Contemporary beliefs, visions and myths can and often do lead to metaphorical and physical reconstruction of the archaeological record and constructed landscapes are particularly susceptible to such “freezing” of meaning (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 10). It is therefore as an archaeologist important to acknowledge one’s own bias in the research but to use theory to bring to light an informed reconstruction of the archaeological site. Sculptures and the statue offer images that are interpreted but give meaning through localized social practices and experience, attributing meaning to artifacts can lend itself to falling into the ‘freezing’ of meaning.
Practice theory helps us here understand how to conceptualize practice and behaviour, where practice is a homologous phenomenon which is not tied to time or place while behaviour is and meaning does do not reside in artifacts or people but rather in the movement of interaction (Pauketat, 2000: 114-117) . Therefore to bring analysis of people to place and structure, I use structuration theory. Giddens uses the term “duality of structure” in structuration to signal the “indivisibility of structure and action: the structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems and therefore that both agent and structure are constantly interrelated” (Joyce, 2004: 11). “By positing that through the exercise of agency human actors reproduce and transform social structure, structuration theories dispense with problematic notions that super-organic institutions ensure the persistence of specific cultural practices, ideas that pose serious analytic problems for understanding change” (Joyce, 2004: 11).
Methods and Artifacts
I have chosen to look at four sculptures and one statue excavated, as I believe a focused analysis of these particular artifacts give a better understanding of the campus. In figure 1 I have a map of what the campus would have looked like and where the sculptures and statue would have stood (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour).. You can see that they were all central on the campus, and with the exception of figure 6, were all found to have stood outside (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). As well, figure A is the only statue I will outline in this paper, as it is of the founder of the University and where the name of the University comes from, Sir William McMaster who sits in the photo below as he would have, on a park bench (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour).. I believe that this statue is critical to an understanding of the campus and the community.
Figure 2 is named B. Covenant and it was made in 2009 with the artist being Mary Anne Barkhouse of the Nimpkish tribe, Kwakiutl Nation (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). This is a sculpture that brings Aboriginal culture and history to the campus community, after all we know this place belonged originally to the Aboriginal people. Animals have large significance to Aboriginal cultures and as a reflection on human life. Animals are a way to connect to nature, to see the aspects of nature that can be found within humanity. In reverse, this sculpture is a way to reflect on the impact of culture on nature, as they are made out of stone. In the university records, there is reference to the artist, who describes her work as a chance encounter between two coyotes: “we size up the other side…decide to either play or fight. It is all part of a natural order that is as old as time itself” (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). This artifact clearly symbolizes nature, and invites the passerby to relate to nature, while relating to Aboriginal culture.
Man Releasing Eagles is the name of Figure 3, made by George Burton Wallace from steel, picturing truly a man releasing three eagles (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). George Wallace also taught in the Fine Art Department at McMaster for 25 years (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). The work is described in the records as the “instant between release and freedom, a man stands frozen in time and space with eagles fluttering in mid-air at the end of his raised fingertips” (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). The work was commissioned to honor Edward Carey Fox, a member of the University Board of Governors and a major University benefactor (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour).
The third sculpture is Figure 5, titled A Bird Bath, and was made by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, widely recognized as one of the outstanding sculptors of his generation. Bird Bath was commissioned in 1914 by art critic Roger Fry (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). The fourth is Figure 6, the only sculpture found in a building, a building that held administration (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour). It is entitled Struggle, and was made in 1962 by Gord Smith (Canadian, b. 1937) from Welded steel. Purchased with funds from the Canada Council Montreal-born Gord Smith focused on architecture and engineering, his design philosophy states: “[A work of art] should be timeless and with a power of its own. If it speaks, it will be heard…” (McMaster University Museum of Art, McMaster Campus Tour).
Ambiguous Blessings from the Dead: Landscape as Memory
If the original sense of community might well be the village, as Benedict Anderson asserts, then the intrusion of symbols in the form of the statue and sculptures, changing the visual character of the landscape but topography, are creating imagined community (Baker, 1989: 491). Imagined community is the simultaneity of an encompassing, communal identity constructed through ideology (Anderson, 2006). One imagines oneself to be part of a university, a city and a nation without knowing other people, places or institutions that make up those aspects of identity and belonging. I suggest that this is what the statue of Sir William McMaster evoked, a way to connect to the imagined community of the university through sitting next to the founder himself. This is a practical and extremely relevant way that people connected to place and to both imagined university and educational community as well as the real place and space.
Ideology therefore, works to bring people into that imagined community, and to present the “arbitrariness of the social order to appear in place and history”, both of which are culturally constructed (Moore, 2005: 172). The sculptures allow new and old, time itself to be understood synchronically, invoking an ambiguous blessing from the dead, ambiguous because for each person it is different (Anderson, 2006: 187). I suggest that the rest of the art pieces served to rest ideology through practical symbolism, such as heteronormative and patriarchal ideals but also pedagogy and success. However within the sculptures you can see people brought into relation with Aboriginal community and ideals around nature, belonging to nature as well as patriarchal, heteronormative, colonial ideals as almost all the artwork relates to English history, and was made for and depicts men in very different ways to women. These are ideological frameworks, expressed through the statue and sculptures in spatial relationships of the constructed environment.
Public sculptures and statues are “the materialization of memory, fixing social and individual histories in place” (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 13). Here, it is important to note that memory “constructs rather than retrieves, and that the past originates from the elaboration of cultural memory, which is itself socially constructed” (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 13). Therefore, the ways that statue and sculptures are a representation of history that is reflected when people interact with them, so many of our memories of place are of the statue and sculptures. These are a way therefore to socially construct memory, and the past. As Foucault stated: “Memory is actually a very important factor in struggle. … If one controls memory, one controls their dynamism… It is vital to have possession of this memory, to control it, administer it, and tell it what it must contain” (Baker, 1989: 494). Therefore, we see statues and sculptures as ways to construct memory, history and embed that within the landscape.
Memory is tied to history, and as Marx puts it “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past” (Moore, 2005: 171). Therefore, sculptures and statue on the McMaster campus evoke a past and memory of both colonial imperialism, and Aboriginal culture but one that is certainly patriarchal, and heteronormative. Here we see sculptures and statues made to connect people to the past through imagined communities with the constructed landscape.
Landscape as Identity
One of the ways of answering how we create spaces and landscapes, as well as imagined communities, is through the objects we put into places, such as statues and sculptures, as they become a way of organizing place. They embody culture, in a way that organizes place to signify belonging and imagined community. Statues and sculptures are an immediate and apparently unmediated way of embodying and communicating values through symbolism to the public and the community. “People recognize, inscribe and collectively maintain certain places or regions these symbolic terms”, and “landscape provides a focus by which people engage with the world and create and sustain a sense of their social identity” (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 15). “The global distribution and deep antiquity of rock markings or ‘rock art’ are ample testimony that are is made on the landscape to bring special attention to that place and to connect human culture and identity”, who we are as people, to that place, to inscribe what we value on that place for it to be relatable (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 15). Statues and sculptures are constructed to bring special attention to the place, to add political and socio/cultural identity/ marking to the place, and to bring people closer to that past, or at least to allow people to enjoy being at that place.
Monumentality, when added to the landscape, through the form of statues and sculptures are all means of identifying the place in a diachronic constructed, or conceptual place (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 15). A way to vest identity in the landscape and in bringing people into imagined communities, impacting the identity of those people. At the McMaster campus, when heteronormative, patriarchal ideals are presented in the statue and sculptures, we see this reflected in society, in the ways people identified in the society. As well, we see the statue embody aspects of culture and society that form identity such as clothing and form, as well as the ever-present symbol of nature.
We see the statue and sculptures as embedding educational prestige in the place, while defining success through education, the act of acquiring knowledge. This can be seen in the statue of Sir William McMaster sitting on a park bench, inviting people to sit beside him, in a way, showing that university education is both prestigious and successful, and metaphorically, by inviting students to discuss with the ancient, stone figure, I see value added in knowledge created through university relationships, and the sharing of knowledge with others. It is as if this statue represents the University showing that it is sharing knowledge with students and faculty, inviting them into relation on those terms.
Landscape as Social Order
By studying statues and sculptures, they tell us a lot to answer the question as to if place is constructed, how is power and inequality found in place, in constructed reality, and impact the lives of people? Where does Agency lie? Just as statues and sculptures change landscape, to “construct place that maps memory and declares identity, so too they offer a key to interpreting society” (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 16). Statues and sculptures “reflect ways of ordering people into society, of the cultural relations that are being acted upon in the place and symbolize the societal values people held” (Ashmore and Knapp, 1999: 16). The historical significance of statues is that ‘they were used as a pedagogic device used by the dominant political ideologies to win over the inhabitants” (Baker, 1989: 491). Therefore, sculptures and statues have a lot of political value attached to them, which is impacted by and within the community and society.
“Politics in any society depends upon the existence of cultural representations that define the relationships among political actors, thereby allowing individuals and groups to press claims upon one another and upon the whole” (Baker, 1989: 496). ‘‘Places themselves, and the very acts that build and transform places, may constitute authority’’ (Roddick et al, 2014: 142). I believe, statues and sculptures are ways for the university and the community to press claims on to the place, as well as authority and prestige, in other words to show success. Sculptures and statues engage overarching structures such as heteronormativity and patriarchy, as well as capitalism and imperialism by just being there, in an unmediated way. The act of enacting statues and sculptures to change place is important, as throughout time place is not fixed, but changing and the act itself of changing place gives an indication of societal change (Joyce, 2004).
Sculptures and statues relate symbolic representations of societal values and politics, they engage structure, which forms “personality” and “society” simultaneously, with people (Joyce, 2004: 9) However, it is important to note that while authority and power emerges, it is “sustained and questioned from within such social relations, that politics itself moves along potentially non-rational historical and social trajectories in complex fashions engaging all members of society” (Roddick et al, 2014: 142). As these sculptures are made by common people, thus people, not authority, are pressing their values on to the place (Pauketat, 2000). They rely on people to relate, to have this moment of action, with the object itself and through that relation find the meaning associated in its symbolism. This action is significant, “because there may be unintended consequences, through unacknowledged conditions of action” (Joyce, 2004: 9).
Actors are always knowledgeable, that is, they act with intention and the erection of statues and sculptures was done with a certain intent. But what we see now, as archaeologists, is as likely to be a result of “unforeseen effects of decisions made with other goals in mind”, and we have to keep this in mind. Sculptures and statues are great in that they are relational, they rely on interpretation (Joyce, 2004: 5). Giddens uses the term “duality of structure” to “signal the indivisibility of structure and action: the structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems” (Joyce, 2004: 11). Therefore, we see both structure, but the duality of structure, the interpretation of people, when we analyze the meanings and symbolism attached to the sculptures/ statue.
Conclusion and Future Directions
This paper explores some of the symbols and meanings behind the public sculptures and one statue that were excavated from the remains of the McMaster University campus after the catastrophe of 2016 which left it abandoned. I believe that beginning with the public artwork, we are able to gleam aspects of the culture/ society and place that were important to the people of the community. I argue that these sculptures and the statue are symbols of power that both traverse and transform time, enmeshing the past into the present, but also give ideological significance to a representation of culture and history that bounds people to a common culture and have a sense of belonging. I look to use practice theory as well as structuration and phenomenology to bring meaning to the artifacts while considering all stakeholders involved. Further research could include an in depth analysis of each artifact, the rest of the statues uncovered as well as a historical analysis of all works of art throughout history that would have stood on the campus.
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Tables and Figures
Figure 1: Map of McMaster Campus with Indication of Sculptures and Statue
Figure 2: Sculpture B on Figure 1
Figure 3: Sculpture E on Figure 1
Figure 4: Statue A on Figure 1
Figure 5: Sculpture C on Figure 1
Figure 6: Sculpture D on Figure 1