wrecked pieces of Terry Bastian’s sculpture of Justice, The
Homeland is Secure, lie asunder across the floor of his Lawrence
studio. Her legs bear scars from canal water, her torso, from barbed
wire and while she still wears the blindfold and smirk Bastian gave
her, her head now rests most unnaturally at an Anne Boleyn-like
“People have to have order in the world," Bastian says calmly, almost
shrugging. “I’m more comfortable with disorder."
Recently, during this unbearable summer, unknown assailants dismembered
Homeland. The sculpture was one of several political works
featured in Artwalk on North Canal, a Bastian-organized public
art exhibit in the most industrial part of this city.
Bastian has two explanations for what provoked this violent response
to his work. “Near as I can tell, someone was trying to steal it,"
he says. “Either that, or someone just wanted to beat the snot out
This writer suspects it's the latter. The Homeland is Secure
provoked strong emotions. Imagine: Justice stands with sword lowered
and scales taken away, her wrists tied with rope. The rust from
the barbs in the wire binding her stains her body like blood. Through
the martyrdom, she smiles inscrutably. We’re moved to compassion,
then to hurt and anger.
The work was unabashedly radical. The Homeland is Secure
was a ringing indictment of authoritarian domestic policies pursued
by Messrs. Bush and Ashcroft since September 11. The artist exposed
the administration’s carpe diem attitude toward the suspension
of our civil rights, particularly free speech, assembly, due process
and access to information. The artist’s in-your-face placement of
the work, opposite the Lawrence courthouse, sharpened the critique.
Homeland evoked a range of responses throughout her life.
After Lawrence’s First Night celebration, vandals tossed
her into the canal. Bastian chalks that up to drunkenness. During
the Essex Art Center’s spring Politically Charged show, abused
women advocates raised concerns about aspects of her that suggested
violence toward women. Some home schooling parents also questioned
the appropriateness of the bare-breasted figure’s placement near
the exhibit’s entrance. The work was later moved to a less conspicuous
When considering the work’s reception at the Human Rights Show at
Heritage State Park in April, the artist characterizes the progressives’
response as, “It may not be pleasant, but it makes people think."
Artwalk on North Canal sports several political works that also
highlight the importance of site specificity in public art. Ian
White’s aural sculpture, Standing Wave, is inseparably
site- and environment-specific: solar-powered solenoids, mounted
onto the braces above a rusty, unused railroad bridge, tap the beams
at different speeds and with different strengths, depending on the
weather. We’re ensconced in a chittering, mechanical forest, at
times soothing and unnerving. By creating no object and thereby
requiring us to experience the piece firsthand, the artist admirably
strives to create the most public of art, that which cannot be commodified.
With Resurrection, Jack Welch takes a commonly found
canal object, an abandoned shopping cart, trebles its size and floats
it on the water. The work’s simplicity and whimsicality are deceptive;
this is a wry commentary on our wasteful dispose-all culture, which
indiscriminately discards inanimate objects, nature and human life
Sara JH Ashodian’s Evolution is two clusters of glow-in-the-dark
spirals that seem to have just burst onto the canal’s surface from
below. Ashodian, a model artist-activist in both her art and her
practice, raises environmental issues with Evolution: we
get the unsettling feeling that something bizarre and threatening,
fed by decades of industrial byproducts, is growing in the murky
Bastian remains undecided about whether to recreate Homeland
for Artwalk on North Canal’s closing reception. He acknowledges
the artistic process doesn’t end with the artist and accepts people’s
destructive responses to site-specific public art as being part
of the piece.
“I look at the canal as a collaborative installation," he says.
“I just happen to be collaborating with vandals and psychotics."
closing reception for Artwalk
on North Canal will be held around the Essex Art Center, 56 Island
St., Lawrence, on Friday, September 13. Terry Bastian can be reached