Henry Moore and the Paradox of Monumentality (Wrapped And Tied-Up Prophesy As Psychological Engine of Historical Process)

Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)
Henry Moore, “Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object” (1942)

It looks that according to Henry Moore civilization starts with a mysterious monument created by human imaginary. The first such monument to civilization was at the same time the one to our imagination. Moore’s “tied-up object” is a monument to both – to our unique ability to fantasize and to our creative ability to incarnate our fantasies into future forms of social relations. But to these two abilities it’s necessary to add our proclivity to wrap and tie up our fantasies about our collective future.

But how can you refrain from worshipping our ability to fantasize and imagine our fantasies in a “socio-political” form if you live near a gloomy landscape with stormy ocean, grey beeches and dead rocks? Just life, just life to live is too little for our souls, too boring and empty like an abandoned shell. Our technical, partial intelligence can help us to find food, to sharpen the stone and metal, but our holistic – human intelligence cannot live without fantasizing, without something which doesn’t exist, without the future, without the idea of a civilization capable of surpassing itself in time. So, we need monuments, but what we get are monuments wrapped in mysteries and tied up to serve the interests of our earthy leaders and bosses.

We all participate in creating the contours of our future, but only some of us elaborate it, wrap it, tie it up and solemnly bring it in front of the “crowd”, like Henry Moore shows it. We have a company – our rulers and specialists and teachers/preachers who follow them: those who watch our imagination because they don’t want “social disorder”, they want our obedience and respect; they want to keep their place above us intact. By talking about future they care about the present – they want to continue to be the decision-makers (in our name) today – that’s why they have wrapped and tied up our collective imagination and claim through slogans that what is hidden and tied up under the wrapping is pleasant and a popular promise – a prophecy of a better life for everyone. So, the mysterious object is tied-up, its forms and meanings are controlled.

What concretely can be under the wrapping and rope? Is it a bottle of the size of a column? Is it a civilization’s phallus – the symbol of its fertility and might? It can be a statue of a god or gods. For the middle of the 20th century when Moore made this painting of the sculpture, it could be the idea of communism winking at people from the future, or the idea of the Third Reich, pompously calling for courage and confidence. It can be the idea of the future technological paradise, inviting us to try harder to deserve to be amongst the saved (if we will be obedient enough and are ready “to work hard”: to accept the conditions of our work as it offered). It can be a monument of every possible idea of salvation the human imagination produces with no less generosity than the human bodies the mountains of food modified in our digestive tracts and sent out as a gift to the womb of the earth.

But what was tied up under the wrapping before the 20th century? To be very brief – Paradise after death (with buttocks of Hell), the “Promise Land”, Mount Olympus full of yearning and judging gods, the “Second Coming of Christ”, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, the British Empire (existing for the purpose of helping its colonies to become part of civilization) the “American Democracy”. And what is under the wrapping today, in the 21st century – American exceptionalism and world domination?

Are we here forever, the crowd looking up at the giant wrapped and tied-up object like soldiers recruited by the future we ourselves dreaming about, locked on a cold windy beach in front of a mysterious civilization invoked in order to our progeny have a better life than their fathers and grandfathers? When futuristic sculptures become too monumental and abstract – when they are wrapped and tied-up, they start to signify the impersonal, super-individual, even super-existential phenomena – be it despotic theology, ideology, economy or technology or all of them simultaneously. Monumentality itself is an invitation not to the future but to the very operationality of the promise.

Those among us, who are closer to the transition from life to death, still remember the times when a better life was part of the historical promises and prophecies. But closer to the end of 20th century this futurological talks of our leaders – cannot be heard anymore. Nobody today is promising a “better conditions of life than it is”. It is a curious sign of the internal transformation of what is tied up under the monumental wrapping of our future.

It’s not by chance that Moore represented his “tied-up object” before idolatrous crowd – during the WWII when countries involved in war were promising to their populations great victories and grand rewards “when we will win”. Today, more than seventy years after, when the ropes and wrapping become outworn and some falling off, our enthusiasm of believers in future civilization shows sign of our exhaustion, confusion and disappointment – amidst the austerity programs more massive than Moore’s monument.

Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)
Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)