Saturday, April 17, 2010
Celebration of the signs and marks humans have made thoughout history and prehistory
This is a detail of the hammered copper sculpture, titled Hieroglyph, by artist O. V. Shaffer that has stood in front of the downtown Madison Public Library since 1964, the year the library opened and replaced the old Carnegie library.
No work of public art will ever please everybody, and Hieroglyph has had its share of detractors over the years, but I'm fond of it -- and think it's especially appropriate for the site.
Humans are sign-making animals. It's impossible to imagine the modern world without reading and the rich cultural substructure with which we pass on memories and experience through books and other writing and imagery, whether electronic or not. Reading in that sense is only a few thousand years old -- and widespread for only a few hundred. But human culture evolved through the language of shared signs -- notched on sticks, carved on stones or painted on cave walls by flickering torchlight -- for ten of thousands of years before books ever existed.
That's what I think Hieroglyph celebrates. The marks and signs and figures embedded in the abstract sculpture evoke the prehistory of writing, without which modern culture -- and libraries themselves-- could not exist.