Looking for a Fight

Hold on to your butts, people – this isn’t one of my better posts.

A man in New Jersey came to Milwaukee recently to visit family.  They ended up at Atwater Park in Shorewood.  This stretch of beach is all that separates some impressive bluffs from the waters of Lake Michigan.  In September of 2010, it acquired a sculpture called Spillover II created by artist Jaume Plensa.

The sculpture itself is a man in a crouched position staring out to the endless waters of the lake, and is comprised of a jumble of letters welded together.

Artist posing with his work

I think it’s a very interesting piece of work, especially when lit from below.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s a stunning piece of work.  One that makes you think.  On the very surface of things, you have a hollow man, sitting on twisted legs, staring for all time at the unbroken horizon of our planet.  Man is hollow compared to the panorama that is the Earth.

The figure has no face – suggesting it could be anyone – you, me, the random guy in a mankini sunning himself on the sand…

And the figure is illuminated from within, suggesting the hollow within houses a light (or a soul, if you will) that is barely contained by the tangible makeup of our bodies, yet shines out from that thin and fragile shell.

I can see man – all humans – constructed of letters.  The very building blocks of our language, our ideas, our dreams, our nightmares.  Everything that we are – broken down into a random jumble of 26 formulaic symbols.  We are all built and interact with each other through a complex arrangement of these 26 icons (in the English Language).  Think about how amazing this is.

26 icons – 36 if you add the numbers 0-9.

Our entire civilization is built with only 36 building blocks.

Language. Mathematics. Arts. Sciences. Religions. History. War.

Everything that the Human race is – is built with 36 tiny building blocks.

My mind.  Is blown.

So why is this man from New Jersey so incensed about this sculpture?

Hateful Sculpture in Milwaukee Needs to be Scrapped | Matt Sweetwood.

This is a clear cut, real-life example of not being able to enjoy the beauty of the forest because the damn trees are in the way.  He got up close and personal with Spillover II, and started connecting the jumbled letters together to come up with anti-Semantic messages.

Naturally, he claims it is deliberate, because the math says so.

Have we become so jaded in this country that we can’t view anything anymore without finding some cause to bitch?  That we have to examine, in minute detail, every piece of expressionism until we can find the ‘hidden meaning’ within – and assume that it’s a hostile one?

For some reason…I have a companion thought about a red coffee cup…

The message of hate you see in Spillover II, Mr. Matt Sweetwood?  You’ve created it with your own avarice.  Set it aflame with your post.  And given it life and breath with your vehemence.  The Shorewood council has ordered the sculpture taken down to be ‘fixed’ thanks to your paranoiac hatred.

The only thing that needed to be ‘fixed’ was your interpretation of the piece to begin with.  You found this message of hate because you wanted to find one.  Focus on hate and negativity, and that is what will be gifted you.

If you read this post (and I hope you did) you’ve now seen my interpretation of Spillover II.

Have we learned something?

One of my favorite games to play with letters is to take a random word, and figure out how many other words I can make out of it.  It can also be fun to occasionally find hidden swear words in the ‘find-a-word’ puzzles in the paper.

In case you haven’t learned anything from my post, here’s a random pile of letters – I’m sure there’s a message of hate somewhere within it…

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14 thoughts on “Looking for a Fight

  1. I did not just use a mathematical argument. I used a visual argument too. And after numerous townspeople, reporters and others went to visit the sculpture, enough of them agreed with me so that it will be taken down. You are trying to trivialize what happened. How about including picture of the offending part of the statue, which says “Cheap Jew”, so your readers can decide for themselves?

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  2. My readers are free to visit your post, which is only a mouse-click away, and has your interpretation of the sculpture – both the photographic and your words.

    I preferred to have my interpretation of Spillover II as the focus of my post, even as you wanted your interpretation to be the subject of yours.

    I really do feel sorry that you work so hard to find a message of hate within the larger piece, and that this has spoiled this part of the shore of Lake Michigan for you and yours.

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    • Why would you say I worked so hard? I saw it 30 seconds after visiting the sculpture for the first time, wrote a blog about it and the rest was up to the people of Shorewood. If they didn’t agree with my observations, the sculpture wouldn’t be taken down and repaired. It was exactly because I was right, that it created the action.

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  3. Right? There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in viewing a piece of expressionist art. There are only degrees of interpretation. Yours sees hatred and vileness. Mine sees variations of the human condition.

    That the council of Shorewood felt the need to act on your interpretation speaks volumes on several key flaws in the very makeup of this society we have built – and why this society will eventually fall into dust.

    I’m sorry the trees are in the way of your viewing a breathtaking forest.

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    • I understand the point you are trying to make, but it hard to enjoy the breathtaking forest when you see one of the trees on fire.You can’t just do nothing and let the tree burn. The rest of the forest is likely to be destroyed too.

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      • If there is a fire in the wood, then you, sir, are the one holding the match.

        How many people have viewed this piece since its installation in 2010? How many other people have expressed ‘hate speech’ concerns over it? How many have claimed that ‘it needs to be scrapped!’

        How many anti-Semantic hate crimes have been committed by persons after viewing and being ‘inspired’ by the message of hate contained within?

        None.

        Perhaps what you saw was a fluttering piece of red construction paper left over from some school art project. You got all excited and offended and screamed ‘wolf’ to get see if the villagers would come running to your rescue.

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      • I remind you again, that I did not decide to take it down. The people of Shorewood did. Stop blaming the messenger. And taking the offending piece of arty down, doesn’t rescue me, it rescues the people in Shorewood.

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  4. OK, boy who cries wolf…No longer will I respond to your cries for assistance. The real wolf will be along shortly to eat your sheep.

    He’ll come from the forest – scared by the flames that you set.

    Thank you for bringing famine to Shorewood.

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  5. After examining the photographs – with photoshop enhancement – on the gentleman’s post, I have to conclude that it is a bit of stretch to claim the artist was intentionally sending a message of hate.

    Many is the time an artist, a writer, a composer, a filmmaker – or a sculptor – has created a work, only for someone to find a completely different meaning in it that the original creative mind did not consciously intend. As Isaac Asimov wrote years ago,

    “The interpretation of creative writing by the author is not sacrosanct. The words mean what they are read to mean, and that can be vastly different to what was intended when it was written.”

    In other words, I do not believe that the sculptor consciously created a piece of art constructed out of letters using the English language to send a message of hatred against any group of people. If you are looking for the Devil in every shadow, you are likely to find him.

    Conversely, if you are looking for beauty in every thing created, you are likely to find that, too. I see a sculpture made out of letters; it is interesting. The lady sees something beautiful. The gentleman sees secret, nefarious hate.

    The commentary reveals more about the viewer, and what is perceived, rather than what actually exists. Beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder.

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  6. Peg, you are a HATER. Your letters clearly contain the message “Ho ho Jew toil (and) boil”. (I couldn’t actually find the “and” but it’s artistically unnecessary.) Disgusting!

    On a more serious note … you know, I think it’s a beautiful sculpture and I share your sense of anger and sadness at having something ugly made of it. On the other hand, I think Matt *might* have a point. I’m just remembering how carefully a good friend worked at putting together patchwork quilts … She was a good quilter but by no means a famous artist, and she would move those patches around and around to find exactly the right position for each one. So I find it hard to believe the artist would have put that piece together without seeing the words. But … did he intentionally hide an anti-Semitic message into the piece? Or is he subconsciously anti-Semitic? Or is it intended as some kind of jab, or challenge, or satire, or a private social experiment? Without spending time I don’t have on studying his other work and searching out further commentaries about and by him, I don’t know. What is significant to me is that, as far as I can tell, when the community told him the message was unacceptable, he didn’t fight – he took the piece down and is changing it to remove the hateful messages. I find it hard to understand why Matt sees this action as some kind of proof of the artist’s malfeasance (see his responses to comments below his own post). I think if the artist were in fact anti-Semitic he’d have made a huge fuss about the Assault on his Art, or he’d have denied any wrongdoing, or he would in some way have resisted making the changes. As far as I can tell, he complied promptly and without a fuss.

    So for crying out loud, let it go. It’s a beautiful work. Someone spotted an ugly flaw, and spoke up. The flaw is being removed. Enough, already!

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      • On the other hand, Matt, the segment shown in your photograph also contains the message “new jade head”, and it makes clear reference to summer with the words “peach” and “beach” … and I’m very much wishing I could just travel to Milwaukee and spend an afternoon reading the whole book written in this sculpture.

        I’m not saying you were wrong to speak up. As a Jew, your reaction to seeing those words together like that must have been visceral and horrible. But now, maybe just let it go? There are bigger fights to fight … and anyway, seems to me you won this one with minimal bloodshed. Now you’re annoyed because the artist isn’t responding in exactly the way, with precisely the words, you deem necessary. But if the artist did not intentionally set out to put a hate message into his work, then surely his willingness to change it is sufficient? And if he is in fact an anti-Semite who intentionally created something hateful and has now been caught and forced to change it, why on earth would you care what verbal bandaid he slaps over the situation?

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  7. The fact there are other words there is irrlevant. That is a diverting argument. As you pointed out “Cheap Jew” was in the artist’s eyes for sure. I have let it go, but I keep getting personally attacked. I am irrelevant in the final outcome. I just wish he apologized. It might have made me a believer.

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  8. In the interest of strictly ‘letting it go, already” I have decided to lock this post from future comments…and eagerly anticipate the artist’s corrected work returning to the beach.

    Bella – it’s a lovely thought – spending the day with the work, and finding what story you can from the randomly-placed letters…I’ll let you know what I find upon Spillover II’s return.

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