The power of the telly

I thought I ought to clarify what I meant in crediting television for the installation of a sculpture of an limbless woman on a plinth in Trafalgar Square (see Roberta’s post).

Normally, people are uncomfortable with imagery they feel doesn’t represent themselves. But the sculpture’s subject, Allison Lapper, had been featured on a Brit take on reality TV as someone who overcame her physical limits to raise a son and be an artist. The telly redefined her as a person to admired and brought her into every home as a part of people’s personal lives.

The public sometimes rejects sculptures erected in public spaces. I’m thinking here about the John Ahearn sculptures of neighborhood characters (shown, Raymond and Toby) that got booted out of the neighborhood and into the backyard at P.S. 1. This was a case of sculpture picturing people differently from how they would like to picture themselves and how they would like to be remembered.

Lapper would never have made the cut of public opinion in such a prominent space without the telly turning her from someone scary into someone the public identified as not very different from themselves.


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