Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Passing Cleveland's "The Politician: A Toy" by Billie Lawless

I've got jury duty this week, and for the hell of it, I've been biking down from University Heights to the Justice Center. It takes me nearly an hour, but in the process I've gotten to know my adoptive city of Cleveland a bit better. When we lived in the city, driving downtown, we'd often pass this weird sculpture by the side of the road, at Chester Avenue and East 66th, but I'd never stopped to check it out more closely.

It's called "The Politician: A Toy," and it's been there since 1996, in the middle of an empty yard behind a warehouse. It's surrounded by a wrought iron fence, which, once you near it and look closely, is covered with parodies of statements made by President Bush the First, one line per side:

Riffing off of the promises made my the president, and what it has borne, Lawless had made a poem in iron. The language aspect of this piece is almost completely unmentioned in stories about it, even in the artist's own description of the piece (where you can see, incidentally, the piece in motion--it's in motion day and night).

Apparently, the piece was not received well by the former mayor of Cleveland, Michael White, and perhaps for good reason. It's both a period piece (in the sense of its satire of Bush One), and speaks volumes about the present. It looked at first like a child's wagon (is it a phallus? the pull of big money?), and the axle is made of "Faber No. 2" pencils. The eyes are ominous television monitors which, at night, glow with television snow, and the mouth never ceases to open and close...

Last year's story on public radio does a solid job talking about it, particularly in relation to another piece of big public art in Cleveland, Claes Oldenburg's FREE STAMP. Yet the tagline is suggestive of the rather narrowly conceived sense of audience of NPR--the Starbucks drinking, surburbanites who work in the city:

If you've made the commute from University Circle to Public Square on Chester Avenue, you've probably seen it - a colorful, mechanical contraption that rises forty feet above the street. Some say it looks like a robotic chicken. The artist who built it ten years ago says it's a piece of political satire. Whatever you call it, it's about to move to a new location.

Later in the article, it says: "A non profit group is currently negotiating to get the piece moved to a more pedestrian-friendly location." Pedestrian-friendly seems like a nice way of saying "nice middle class white people," since there is no reason anyone can't walk up to it if they happen to be in the neighborhood.

Here's another Lawless piece I'm dying to visit (480 and Pearl Road):


Unknown said...

OMG this is awesome! I was doing a hungover drive home from the west side back to the ol' faithful east side one morning a few weeks ago and I came up Chester to MLK I think, through those inner-ring neighborhoods. It made me love the city and want to come back. This does too!

Philip Metres said...

Cleveland is last year's Chicago, which is to say, gnarly. So full of contradictions and dead-ends and stories I'll never know. Thus, poetry.

thanks, C!

jdaviddark said...

Way to see and take note.
thanks much for this.