Breaking Down Colston: Destruction and transformation in London and Bristol

Crisp, Lindsay P. (2021). Breaking Down Colston: Destruction and transformation in London and Bristol. The Jugaad Project



This article investigates articulations of material and cultural affects in the deplinthing of the Bristol memorial to Edward Colston in June 2020, and Michael Landy’s destruction of his belongings in the art event Break Down in February 2001. In Break Down, as in the deplinthing of the Colston memorial, destruction changes and expands the plane upon which objects are intelligible by bringing to our attention their material composition. Moreover, in both events matter is processed and deployed in ways that work through the phases of severance, liminality, and reintegration, as proposed in Arnold van Gennep’s ritual theory. In the Colston memorial ‘heritage,’ defined by Stuart Hall as a discursive complex that produces an exclusionary iteration of national identity, is mediated through the material form of the monumental sculpture. The protesters’ action in Bristol and Landy’s project of systematic dismantling and granulation differ profoundly in epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic terms. However, both events confront us with the fact that matter is never entirely ‘gone.’ In parallel with the traumatic and violent histories that the statue reproduces and mediates, we are left with the question of how to respond to its material existence, both before and after its deplinthing.

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