Can a Sculpture feel Pain?/ Columbus Confessionals
Jean-Marc Superville Sovak
The question of what to do with monuments that have potentially outlived their ideological usefulness is easily answered by removing such public sculptures from our sight. Columbus Confessionals proposes that by recruiting such objects for their symbolic potential, we gain the possibility of confronting ideologies inconsistent with an equitable, tolerant and empathetic society.
As an artist, Superville Sovak employs cultures of remembrance to fill in the gaps inherent in the narratives of multi-racial identities that make up the DNA of this country (as well his own). By employing participatory activation for his projects, Superville Sovak seeks a form of discourse that illuminates the complexity of an audience. In past projects the artist has officiated participatory performances, which symbolically disavow the unmerited benefits of stolen land and labor (Burial for White Supremacy), marked the ties of one college campus’s famed architectural monument to the legacy of the slave economy (Stolen Sugar Makes the Sweetest Books), and engaged passersby in a storefront portrait studio/oral history recording sessions (I Draw & You Talk.) For his Recess Session, the artist has reimagined the space as a laboratory for exploring the redemptive potential of a life-size replica of a monument to Christopher Columbus that has recently been the center of public protest by local community members.
A replica of the Columbus monument will be housed in one side of a confessional booth where the sculpture will remain partially exposed to visitors who may enter the other chamber and engage in a private dialogue with the sculpture. Visitors are asked to explore their own connection to the various layers of meaning that have been ascribed to Columbus throughout American history. On an adjacent wall, large prints of Columbus’s outline invite viewers to write down their responses to the questions “What did Columbus say in the past?”, “What should Columbus say in the present?”, and “What might Columbus say in the future?” Transposed onto the monument, Columbus then serves as a vessel for projections of both our anger and hope. Columbus Confessionals, therefore, not only asks “Can a sculpture feel pain?” but also, “Can a sculpture feel our pain?”
Columbus Confessionals acknowledges the ideological purgatory into which the symbolic figure of Columbus has been cast. During the course of the Session, a selection of the respondents’ words will be compiled into a liturgy embodying a collective form of judgment, a cleansing fire otherwise understood as “un-forgetting”, through which our understanding of a seemingly impenetrable historical figure may allegorically “satisfy old debts, undergo correction, and heal painful memories” according to the Catholic tradition of Confession.
As the Session progresses, the artist will be compiling a topical reading list and a series of recorded interviews with artists and scholars on subjects as “The Politics of Memory” and “The History of Allegorical Representations of American Nationhood.” The artist will also be using a part of the Recess gallery as a fabrication studio, inviting the public to attend workshops to mold sections of the Columbus model (hands, face, chest) in order to cast objects that will be used in a ritualized performance culminating at the end of the Session.
Columbus Confessionals borrows the image of the patron Saint of American Nationhood as a wedge to leverage and fracture differences between history and nostalgia. The project invites the public to collectively peel back the layers of mythological identities embedded within dominant historical narratives of Nationhood, Independence, Citizenship, Patriotism and Righteous Rebellion.
About the artist
Jean-Marc Superville Sovak
On view: November 11, 2023–January 25, 2024
Marcela Torres and Assembly
September 14–November 10, 2023
KING COBRA and Hue Hallums