Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Empty Plinth

Only in Canada, stereotyped as a country with a soggy sense of nationhood and a moral superiority towards its southern neighbour, would anybody dream up something like this - the world’s first monument to those rebels and cowards who fled there to evade the military draft or desert after joining up. (via Slate)

A memorial to the thousands of Vietnam-era draft dodgers who fled to Canada is planned for the small town of Nelson in British Columbia. Even by the indistinct standards of contemporary public art, the monument seems hard to interpret. Surely, the man helping the small figures can't be one of the draft-dodgers? Or is he, in the best Canadian tradition of tolerance and welcoming of refugees, supposed to be helping ashore some of the thousands of Vietnamese boat people who fled communism? Or perhaps there's an ironic message, in which the larger figure represents the Canadians greeting moral pygmies from the US.

Although I'm no authority on the visual arts, London seems to have stumbled on the same idea. A plinth at the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square has long lain vacant, while three others bear statues of a kings and generals. Instead of commissioning some ugly monstrosity, the plinth can be left as the monument to the unknown peace campaigner, whose contribution to ending oppression, terrorism and war is perfectly symbolised by emptiness.