This is Bosci. He’s the main feature of an installation made by my partner, Brian McKenzie, in the chapel of Nunhead Cemetery. He is supposed to be living in the chapel for 3 months. Visitors could look through a closed gate to see him sitting innocuously on a bench, a nest and pile of bones behind him, forming an artwork called Animal Within. He’s not intended to be frightening but to disturb you mildly by being ambiguous, to raise questions about the nature of animality and humanity. His face and pose are intended to be slightly amusing and urbane, perhaps making you feel empathetic for a human-like creature, rather than horrified by a beast. The setting of a ruined roofless chapel, with a stone angel looking on, and beneath a crypt containing coffins, and the woodland all around, are all part of the experience. It was installed for one day, and caused a bit of a reaction. Loads of people loved it and spread the word, so today lots of people are arriving on word of mouth to see it. However, two people complained that it was too scary, especially for children. One of the complainers says that Bosci is satanic, although that wasn’t at all Brian’s intention.
Iona Hine, a Bible scholar, provided a well informed opinion on whether Bosci could be deemed or defined as Satanic, if not intended as such. She concludes that, although she can understand why reasonable people may make allusions to Satan on first impressions (as it’s black and its ears seem like horns), it can’t be judged as Satanic. Read more here. Zoe Young pointed out that most of what is deemed Satanic is not intended to be, citing false accusations of witchcraft. Because Brian modelled the figure on himself, and because the image came out of himself, he feels accused of being Satanic himself. Zoe said: Imagine if Brian actually looked like Bosci (e.g. suffered from hypertrichosis) – would he be banished as being too evil and fearful if he was a living human?
Brian named the figure Bosci because of a vague sense that this was a suitable name for a wood-dweller. It turns out that the Bosci were a Mediaeval monastic sect of Grazers. (Thanks to photographer Andrew Hewson, who we met wandering the Cemetery with an ancient camera, for pointing this out.) These men and women were so dedicated to an ascetic life that they lived as grazing beasts, wearing fur or growing their own hair sometimes to cover their nakedness. They believed that because animals had not been cast out of Eden they were closer to God, so wanted to emulate them as a spiritual practice. On discovering this, Brian felt that this is very close to his intentions for Bosci.
Anyway, without any consultation with the artist, the Cemeteries Manager for Southwark Council ordered Bosci to be removed from sight, and is unmoved despite hearing how many people want to see the work. Since her initial decision, she has expressed regret but the Cemetery friends are adamant that the work is unsuitable because it is insensitive for Cemetery visitors.
Now, I don’t like children to be exposed to violent imagery or stories, for too long, without support to engage critically. However, I do believe that children need to face and discuss things they find frightening, with the help of adults. Children might find many things in the cemetery scary, such as dogs barking, crows, open graves or dark woodland paths. It’s the role of adults to help children differentiate between things which are genuinely threatening and things which are only unsettling. If adults respond to children’s fears by demanding that the source of their fear is removed, they are reinforcing the fearfulness of the scary thing. If authorities support adults’ demands to remove the source of fears (except those which are genuinely threatening), they are dismantling the foundations of good parenting. We must have open debate about where to draw the line between what is genuinely threatening and what is unsettling, so that we can make decisions to protect children from harm. However, this decision was made without debate or consultation.
What do you think?