Tuesday, April 5, 2016


MARILYN MONROE IN BENDIGO 2016 Playing Statues Victoria (1819 – 1901) Mary (1842 – 1909) Marilyn (1926 – 1962) That would be Queen Victoria, Saint Mary McKillop, and Marilyn Monroe. In 1903, a statue was erected in memory of Queen Victoria in the Australian city of Bendigo. This statue stands close to the main highway that runs through the city. In a line with this statue, and two minutes away by car, on the hillside in front of the eastern wall of the gothic cathedral of the Sacred Heart, stands a statue erected in memory of Australia’s first canonised saint, Mary McKillop. Mary was unveiled in 2014. These two statues are there for the long haul – they are part of the face and personality of the city. Between them, and in line with them, closer to Victoria than to Mary, stands a temporary statue representing Marilyn Monroe. She was erected in 2016. Majesty, Sanctity, Glamour. It’s February 3rd 2016. I’m driving into Bendigo to have lunch with a friend. I have driven past Mary. I come to the traffic lights. Now these traffic lights are there for the management of roads that converge on a nineteenth century fountain, dedicated to Alexandra, daughter-in-law of Victoria. The roads are edged with a strangely motley collection of architectural styles – a nineteenth century ex-pub with graceful verandah and iron lace, an art deco facade, an art nouveau facade, a kind of blank wall that promises Aussie Cash, a brutal battleship-grey block resembling a penitentiary or a child’s construction of a fort cut from thick cardboard, and a triangle of delightful public garden, enclosed by tall graceful nineteenth century iron railings. Behind the railings on this day there are green lawns, a bed of orange canna lilies, a bed of pink, red, white and orange impatiens – bizzie lizzies. The traffic clogs its way around all this, and in the centre is the anachronistic fountain, surrounded by flower beds and iron railings and elegant lamps. There are figures of allegorical women, of lions, dolphins, mer-horses – and water sprays out of the mouths of some of these figures, ending up in a shallow pool at the bottom. In the mid-afternoon the arcs of water can catch the glinting light of the sun. On this particular day, while I’m stopped at the lights, beside the fountain, I take a quick photo, from a bit of a distance, of the activity in the triangle of garden which is the entrance to Rosalind Park, the charming formal green centre of the city. Just where the Christmas tree lately stood, there is now a tall pale statue of a woman (it is immediately obvious that it is a representation of Marilyn). It is thirty-six feet (7.9 metres) tall, eight feet taller than the fountain. The area is roped off with tape like a crime scene. Men are climbing ladders that reach up between her legs and disappear under the great stiff white sail of her billowing dress. She was manufactured in New Jersey in 2011, was on display in Chicago, and has now travelled to replace the Bendigo Christmas tree. I wish I had been there to see her being swung into position. Marilyn is made from painted stainless steel and aluminium, and she is an attempt to render in solid form the scene in The Seven-Year Itch (1955) where Marilyn stood over a subway vent which blew warm air up her pleated white skirt. In the movie, the scene was brief, amusing, tantalizing, and Marilyn was seen only from the front. She was laughing into the camera, and she was soft, her dress was soft and fluttering, and she was more or less life-size. She was sexy, vulnerable, endearing. The statue is a huge clumsy frozen giant-woman with a particularly ugly face that appears to be in pain. The skirt doesn’t move – well, it is a statue after all – and extends out and up like a verandah, revealing painted-on underpants with a modest lace edging. The bum is rounded, and the area between the legs disappears into a little fold of mystery. People constantly walk around beneath the statue of Marilyn, taking photos of themselves with various bits of her. A few steps away stands Victoria. She is white marble, life-size, although taller than she was in real life, since she was but five feet, if that. She is elevated on a granite plinth with a bronze lion reclining at on the ground below her. She is recognizable as the pudgy, sulky, stern-faced monarch. In right hand she grasps the sceptre, but her left hand is open to release a dove. She is wearing long fancy regalia, medals and a tiny crown. She has her back to Marilyn, as would seem to be only right. And her legs are completely concealed by her marble clothing. In fact, she is in reality a block of solid marble onto the outside of which she has been fashioned. No bum. No knickers here. Anyway, who’s looking? Back at the cathedral, Mary McKillop’s bronze face is strong, handsome and realistic. Imposing, somewhat larger than life I think. She is cloaked, almost shrouded in a flowing bronze cape and hood, reminding me of a Hollywood version of a medieval monk. She is backed by a slab of translucent green glassy panels – perhaps the material is Perspex. The front of the cloak, which flows lyrically down over the edge of the grey stone plinth, is open to reveal the body beneath. This body is remarkable. It is made from the same green glassy substance as the panels behind the figure, and it is hollow. So it is possible to see right inside the saint. Her green glass body resembles an old-fashioned Coca Cola bottle, and it contains a wooden crucifix that extends from the chin to the floor. Twisted around the crucifix is a tormented set of rosary beads that appear to be linked by sections of rusty fencing wire. The viewer sees right inside this one. No solid marble, no fancy pants. Just a hollow green Coke bottle holding crucifix and rosary. Marilyn, the monster-woman between the queen and the saint, is in fact an advertisement for an exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery which is a few minutes’ walk up the hill from where she stands. You can see her dresses and all the rest, including her autopsy report, in glass cases. Victoria was a kind of advertisement for the British Empire, but by the time she made it to Bendigo, she was dead but the Empire was still going strong. Mary McKillop also is a kind of advertisement, poster-girl for the Catholic Church in Australia, canonised in 2008. So there they are, a little variety of statues, strung out along the highway, two of them less interesting, less popular than the third, which will one day be replaced by a Christmas tree, having made heaps of cash for the Gallery and for Bendigo in general. I hope I am driving past when the men go up the ladders again to do whatever it is they have to do up there, when Marilyn has served her purpose. UNDERNEATH MARILYN INSIDE MARY VICTORIA TURNS AWAY

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