Desolate on the Moon’s Surface
In summer 2019, a monumental bronze sculpture with a label Matthew Day Jackson, Magnificent Desolation, 2013 was erected in front of the main entrance of the Serlachius Museum Gösta. When the American artist’s retrospective exhibition came to an end in autumn of that year, the sculpted monument remained on its position. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation had acquired the artwork to its collection.
Matthew Day Jackson (b. 1974) has often explored art history in his visionary works. The exhibition Maashown at Gösta’s Pavilion presented apocalyptic horror imagery from the post-ecocatastrophe world. Located outside the museum, Magnificent Desolation formed one part of the exhibition, even though the work had a different kind of story behind it.
One particular episode of the Hundred Years’ War that waged between France and England in the 14th century has become famous owing to the commemorative monument by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). Located along the English Channel, the besieged port city of Calais was in the verge of starvation. In order to save the inhabitants of their city, six leading burghers surrendered themselves to English King Edward who had promised to spare the rest of the inhabitants of the city in return of their lives. Edward insisted that the leaders walked before their victor through the city gates bare feet, humble, a rope around their neck in order to surrender the keys of the city as well their lives. However, the story got a lucky turn: English Queen pleaded with Edward for the lives of the burghers who were to be sacrificed. A superstitious person, she treaded that the death of men would become a bad omen for her unborn child.
A competition on the motif was launched when city of Calais wanted to celebrate their six burghers’ heroic deed 500 years later. Auguste Rodin’s winning creation The Burghers of Calais was implemented in 1889. Contrary to his contemporary classicist concept of art, Rodin placed his six sculpted figures on an even ground – instead of the then habitual high plinth, shining of glory and surrounding allegoric figures. Rodin’s aim was to present their voluntary sacrifice as heroic. Rather than courage and willpower, he depicts suffering, distress and fatalism. In Jackson’s words Rodin depicts them: “eternally slogging through an unending purgatory”.
Matthew Day Jackson’s interpretation of Rodin’s work The Burghers of Calais understrikes the figures’ solitude and fear. Jackson took low resolution photographs of Rodin’s work with his smartphone camera. The characters were created by modelling based on the black and white images. The paragon of the pedestal is the landing place of the US space program’s Apollo 11 crew on the Moon. Jackson’s characters are standing there as if they were an expedition worn down by erosion or hit by a nuclear fallout, lacking personalized features, forever stuck in strange time and place.
Head of Collections