Art of heros

GEORGE FREDERIC WATTS (1807-1904) was a prolific, highly acclaimed Victorian artist. Visitors to London’s Kensington Gardens can easily admire one of his works, a sculpture called “Physical Energy”. Standing across the Serpentine from a sculpture by Henry Moore, Watts’s sculpture is a bronze casting of a version of it that was sent to South Africa as part of a memorial to Cecil Rhodes. One of Watts’s less prominent works, and quite a curious one, can be seen in Postman’s Park, which is a few yards north of St Pauls Cathedral in the City of London. It is the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.

The memorial consists of a wall covered with rectangular plaques, made with ceramic tiles commemorating heroic deeds carried out by ordinary people. For example, one bears the words:
“Frederick Alfred Croft. Inspector aged 31. Saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station but was himself run over by a train. Jan 11, 1878”.
And many other examples of great bravery by civilians are recorded on the wall, which is protected by a canopy with a decorative fringe.

By Susan Hiller

The artist Susan Hiller (1940-2019) was born in Florida (USA) and died in London. Apparently, she was surprised by how few people noticed the memorial in Postman’s Park, let alone read the tragic plaques. I am one of the few, who have done so. So, as soon as I got near to an artwork displayed in a temporary exhibition in the Tate Britain art gallery, I knew it was based on the plaques in Postman’s Park. The piece consists of 41 photographs of plaques on the Memorial, which have been arranged on a wall by Susan Hiller. In the centre of this artistic array that she has called “Monument 1980-1”, she has placed a plaque which consists of a stretch of tiling on which the words “Strive to be your own hero” have been crudely written with black paint.

Susan Hiller’s interesting version of GF Watts’s Memorial is one of several intriguing exhibits in an exhibition called “Material as Message”, which was still being installed when we visited it in March 2023. There is yet one more exhibit to be unveiled. Hiller’s exhibit interested me because I am familiar with Postman’s Park, but the other exhibits were equally fascinating both visually and conceptually.

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