With Gleaming Eyes, 2009

Displays of publicly or privately commissioned works of art can be seen as opulent articulations of power and prestige; they are also markers of time in a constellation of socio political stakes. With Gleaming Eyes relates the seductiveness of opulence to its darker connotations and was developed specifically for a Latitude Photographers group exhibition Opulence, 2009.

The bust of Athena depicted in With Gleaming Eyes was sculpted in white marble by the Romans over one thousand and eight hundred years ago to copy a Greek sculpture made in the late 5th century BC.  In Greek mythology, Athena is the goddess of war, strategy, industry, justice, wisdom, and skill; a companion of heroes that led them to a battle “with gleaming eyes” (Homer).  With the seats of power falling, the settings of its display kept changing: after sixteen hundred years the bust was purchased from a collection of Marquis Campana in Rome and travelled to St. Petersburg, just as the Russian Emperor, Alexander II undertook a series of reforms designed to take his empire onto the road to capitalism. The long journey taken by this object across time and space reveals consistency of values symbolised by Athena in the European culture.  The bust’s age and heritage are the reasons for its display at the Hermitage, and its inclusion to one of the world’s most precious collections of cultural artefacts.  Ironically, at its present setting, the bust sits in an easily overlooked corner of one of the hundreds of extraordinary rooms, with thousands of other treasures accumulated around it, passively left to the mercy of our fragmented attention.


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