SUE FROM BBC LOCAL RADIO: I’m standing in the grounds of an ordinary central Cambridge apartment block where local resident Damian Counsell has found himself at the centre of a controversy following his construction of a sculpture he has called, somewhat provocatively even he must admit, “You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Was In My Name.”
Before we go any further, Damian, I was wondering if you’d like to describe this piece to our listeners.
DAMIAN: Certainly, Sue. And may I just say that you’re looking particularly gorgeous, even though it’s a Monday.
SUE: Er, thank you.
DAMIAN: Well, my work is a life-sized depiction of an Afghan woman casting her vote. She places her voting slip in the ballot box with one hand, and at the same time, uses her other hand to make a “V for victory” gesture.
SUE: It’s definitely striking, and the material it’s sculpted from is also quite unusual, isn’t it?
DAMIAN: Yes, Sue, it is. I have for some time been collecting paper from my neighbours’ recycling boxes, focusing in particular on the many old copies of The Guardian and The Independent to be found outside the houses close by; these two newspapers are particularly popular with the young, Left-leaning families who live near my flat. Many of the residents’ discarded political posters are in the mix too. I tore them all up by hand and stirred them into a vat of a plastic resin that I synthesized myself in my own lab. I then applied gobbets of the mixture to an underlying wire mesh framework, building up the figure by small stages. I think you have to agree that the result is as colourful as it’s weatherproof.
SUE: It certainly looks colourful to me, but it seems that the same neighbours who unwittingly supplied material for your statue are not entirely happy with the fruit of your efforts. Many of them have complained to the council. In particular, they say that the “victory” gesture you refer to is actually a rather less positive salute, and one aimed at them specifically.
DAMIAN: The “V” sign is, I believe, used in many sovereign states around the World to symbolize victory, though, obviously, people of different countries make the same shape in different ways. I think those complaining about this sign would benefit from opening their minds to the diverse interpretations that can be made of it. They should understand the real cultural differences between British and, for example, Afghan ways of representing the “V” form before they rush to war—I mean rush to judgement.
SUE: In fact some of your neighbours’ complaints go further and accuse you not only of being a notorious eccentric, but of actively anti-social behaviour. For example, a colleague of mine from BBC Radio Cambridge was told that, one evening shortly after you came 57 votes behind a candidate standing for the “Exhume The Queen Mother” party in the Cambridge Market election, you were heard in this very street singing a selection of songs by Jerome Kern, punctuated by cries of “Why didn’t you just vote for Ba’athists, you prissy, selfish Lib Dem bastards?!”
DAMIAN: I have no recollection of that incident.
SUE: And in the face of local protests are you determined to keep this figure on show?
DAMIAN: Definitely Sue. I think it would be terrible if my artistic voice—which some consider to be a dissenting one—were crushed by narrow-mindedness and suspicion.
SUE: There are rumours that your defiance extends to a claim that this is part one of a two-part work?
DAMIAN: Yes, Sue. The other piece will be rendered in the same medium, very similar in overall form, but feature an Iraqi man simultaneously casting his vote and using a single finger of his other hand to make an “I for Iraq” symbol. It’s tentatively entitled “Saddam Is Their Bitch”.
SUE: Er, thank you, Damian. I think we’ll leave it there.
DAMIAN: Thank you, Sue.
SUE: This is Sue Mason in the city, for BBC Radio Cambridge, standing next to the statue everyone’s talking about.
Okay? Did you get all that on tape, Steve?
STEVE: It’s in the can, Sue.
DAMIAN: So, Sue, have you anything special planned this evening? I do etchings as well, you know.