Art by Joachim Heijndermans.
From the author: An artist struggles against the backlash from the citizens of Amsterdam when his sculpture clashes with their city's image.
“So? What do you think?” Andrew asked cheerfully. I could hear the anticipation in his voice for my honest and , hopefully, encouraging critique. A shiver of horror rolled down my spine while looked at me with hopeful eyes. I stood there, for the first time in my life completely speechless, still not believing what I was looking at. If only he'd shown it to me in his studio beforehand. I could have persuaded him into maybe to change the location for this...behemoth of a sculpture.
Above us, five helicopters were lifting a massive black statue toward the canal. It was a sculpture of a man with the head of a falcon. It was like a discarded prop from a C. B. DeMille movie was being dropped right on our doorstep. I held my breath as the choppers lowered the bird-man into the waters of the canal.
I'd been silent for over five minutes now. The cries and shouting of the people of Amsterdam did cover for my lack of response, but only for so long. Andrew was beginning to notice my hesitation. What was I to say? Thanks for putting something that does not fit the city right in it's heart?His smile began to fade. It nearly broke my heart. Quick! Say something! Anything.
“It's...breathtaking,” I said, trying to make it sound like a compliment.
“Oh good. I was afraid you didn't like it,” he responded with a large smile.
“Hopefully I'm not the only one,” I said, looking over the canals and streets filled with an angry crowd. Those who had boats had sailed into the canal near the edge of the sculpture, slamming their palms against it. They already cooked up a chant, telling us “Get rid of the chicken!”.
“Pah! What do they know. This is something different. You'll see. In time they'll warm up to it,” he brushed it off. It was interesting that, somehow, my opinion was one of the few that actually mattered to Andrew. I hadn't worked at the gallery in years, nor did I keep up with the current trends. And yet here I was, the one person who he still listened to. I could have convince him to move it elsewhere. I still don't know why I didn't.
“The city council will love it too. Beef up the tourism around here,” said Andrew.
“Yes. Because if anything, Amsterdam is know for it's lack of tourism,” I said.
“Ha, always a kidder,” he laughed. “Let them come for something more than just legal weed and hookers. Let them come for some realart.
“Can I ask you something though?” I asked.
“Well--” he started, pausing for quite a while before he finished. “You see, Horus is a god of the sky. And the Wedjat, the eye of Horus, represents the watchfulness of the city. And that ties into Rembrandt's “The Night's Watch” and the history of--”
“That's a bunch of crap, isn't it?” I interrupted.
“Yeah,” he sighed out. “I just like flacons. Plus it'll look really cool among all these old buildings. Something fresh.”
“I dunno Andrew. I think the people here kinda like the old architecture. Gives them a sense of pride. And putting this black, something-odd high--I'm sorry, howbig did you say it was?”
“We'll, the American company that made the cast said it was over a hundred and sixty feet. I think that's about...fifty meters?”
“Fifty?” I nearly yelled before I could restrain myself.
“Yeah. Wild, isn't it?” he said with a smile.
“Yes. Unbelievable,” I muttered.
A looked at the sculpture once more. The helicopters that had carried the completed...monstrosity were headed out toward the setting sun. Hundreds of angry citizens had swarmed around the canal that Horus had been placed into. Andrew seemed exhilarated by the sight of his two year project finally being placed in the cold, dark waters of the Amsterdam canal. Water filled with thrashed bicycles, used condoms, empty soda cans and an enormous amount of feces, both animal and human. And yet to the people of the city this colossal sculpture of Horus seemed to be the worst thing to have ever graced these canals
That the statue had made an impact was undeniable. It was mentioned in every newspaper, most of them front page articles. Every news station, both foreign and domestic, had their story on it. For comedians, it was a goldmine of material. I had a cartoon of the bird-man laying an egg on the mayor of Amsterdam on my desk for a month.
The city council and the mayor, after letting Andrew know that the giant man with the head of a falcon “wasn't really what they had in mind”, had gone public with their disapproval and distanced themselves from the project entirely. The huge cost of having it put in the middle of the canal did strain their budget to the point they couldn't afford to have it removed again. They even set up a fund that took donations in the hope of collecting money from all those who had petitioned against it. Over five-hundred thousand people donated, but the city was still short on funds. They were left with no choice but to leave it where it was.
The protesters dwindled in time. Not much sense in protesting something the authorities hated themselves. It still broke Andrew's heart every time someone vandalized his statue. He may not have put that much thought into it, but dammit, he loved that ugly thing. I'd see him from time to time, scaling the sides of the giant Egyptian God placed in the dark waters of the canal, trying his best to remove a painted penis from the statue's crotch. A British tabloid had a funny headline about the vandal confusing it for a different kind of bird, but I couldn't muster the courage to show it to Andrew.
“Did you know those bastards tried to sic me with the cost of the helicopters?” Andrew yelled loudly over the music. Last call was half an hour away, so he tried to get as much drinking done as possible. He seemed skinnier. I was afraid to ask if he was eating enough.
“Let's not talk about...that. I'm actually more more interested in your newer stuff,” I said, nibbling on some bar nuts.
“What newer stuff?” he asked.
“Well, anything after--,” I began, until it dawned on me. “Andrew, you have been working, haven't you?”
He made face as if my question was something foul tasting he swallowed from the bottom of his glass. “I just haven't been able to do anything. No inspiration,” he said with an aloof tone.
“You sure? I see you around the...statue plenty of times. You spend more time there than at your studio,” I said. “It just seems that you spend every waking moment working to clean that statue of graffiti. And when we hang out, that's all you can talk about. You're becoming obsessed with it.
He rubbed his finger against his glass, his cheek resting in his palm. After not saying anything for nearly five minutes, he looked up at me.
“Do you know what some punk wrote on it? Lord of the Dildos! Does it even remotely look like a dildo to you?” he asked.
I wanted to point out he was ignoring what I had said, but after
thinking it over I remembered seeing it once from a distance. It does look like a big black dildo, if you ignore the beak.
We ordered another round, and for the rest of the night Andrew kept bitching about his Horus. And I did the only thing I could do. I listened.
It was bound to happen that the tourist sector tried to make a buck off the statue. And sadly, they ran into the same problems as the city had. Hundreds of snow globes, lighters, keychains, bottle openers, t-shirts and marihuana pipes decorated with the bird-man that nobody would ever think of buying. The most common complaint was that it didn't remind anyone of Amsterdam. The tourist shops took a profit nosedive, and once more the question of wether having a giant statue of an Egyptian God in the middle of the canals was worth the trouble popped up. They tried to have Andrew foot the bill for lost revenue, until he pointed out that the likeness of his art had been used without his permission. I guess they had called it even.
The common tourists hated it and stayed away in droves. Those that came for Amsterdam's more notorious features could care less, and were usually the first to make the now famous dildo analogy.
The worst blow to the city was when the committee for the Gay Pride parade begun to consider using Utrecht instead, possibly costing the city even more in lost revenue. Andrew was dragged into meeting after meeting to find a way to come to a consensus. He refused to have it painted pink, and nearly attacked some kid who came up with the idea of wrapping it in a giant condom to promote safe sex.
And then there was that weekend with the accident. A couple of teenagers got drunk and sailed their boat right into the statue. No one was seriously hurt, but the issue of Horus being a safety hazard was brought up. Insurance companies had a field day with Andrew. I don't know the details, but Andrew had locked himself in his studio when it was over. I hardly saw him after that. The statue was no longer being kept clean. The bottom half was covered in all kinds of graffiti and bills for local sex shops. Yet after all that drama and heartache, Horus stood there in the disgusting, condom infested waters, his head held high and proud. Forever looking at the sun. Like Andrew, he would never budge.
Until that day in November.
Like the founders of this city had realized when they began building it so many centuries ago, Amsterdam stands on fragile soil. Most of it's buildings are built on poles to keep them from sinking into the ground. I think Andrew had assumed his Horus was tall enough it wouldn’t need support. If he did, he was wrong.
People had begun to notice it had begun to slant to the side. A few weeks later it had tipped so far to the side the city put up a barricade around a supposed “crash-site”, should it come down. Everyone imagined it would smash down with a violent crash. A falling god slamming into the black waters. But that morning in November, it had simply sank. Not with a grandiose splash, but with it slowly descending beneath the cold water. It finally stopped sinking around sunset, with it's face flat down in the muddy canal floor.
The city moved on, forgetting the statue of the Falcon God had graced their city. Sometimes I'd hear a joke about it at a party, until even that went out of style. The time of Horus had passed.
It had been the first time I had seen him in months. I didn't realize it wasAndrew until I heard him swear at the two men who were holding him at bay. At first I thought he was being mugged, but then I noticed they were simply throwing him out on his ass.
“You—you--,” he tried to yell insults at the bouncers, but they were long gone, back into the club they had just kicked my friend out of. I helped him up, and was greeted with a big hug. He'd apparently just now noticed it was me.
“How you been? How you been?” he slurred.
We walked for a while as he was singing some song he'd just made up. He smelled of booze and vomit, and from what little I managed to catch from his stories, it seemed he'd been on quite the binge.
It was then that I realized where we were. Normally you could barely see it at night. But with the full moon, you could clearly make out the dark path in the canal where Andrew's statue had sank. For a good ten minutes we stood there in total silence, looking down at the dark silhouette at the bottom of the waterbed.
“What a waste,” Andrew finally said. “All that work. And those bastards never gave it a chance. They didn't get it. This whole damn city didn't get it, and then swallowed it hole.”
I nodded a bit, hoping we'd move on. He turned to me.
“You liked it, right?”
That same question again. But this time, I knew exactly how to answer it.
“What?” Andrew said confused.
“I didn't like it. I hated it. It was the ugliest thing anyone has ever thought of putting in the heart of Amsterdam. It was worse than the butt-plug gnome in Rotterdam. How you thought anyone would like it is still beyond me. It doesn’t fit the surroundings and just keeps reminding people of a giant dildo. So congratulation, you spend all that time and effort and sanity on the worst thing ever. The only phallic symbol that Amsterdam rejected. Kudos!”
I realized I was short on breath when I'd finished venting. All that had been bottled up inside. And now, when he was at his lowest, did I decide to be honest. What a friend I was.
Andrew looked at me for a few minutes. To my surprise, he began to laugh. And I couldn’t help myself but laugh along with him. In the end we laughed so hard we were gasping for air.
“C'mon,” he said as he patted me on the back. “Let's go to my place for a drink.”
I followed him as he swerved through the night, giggling to himself as he repeated the word “dildo”.
Andrew's been working again. A few paintings here, a sculpture there. Thankfully all moderately sized. He never mentions Horus anymore. I wonder if he even gives it any thought anymore.
I must admit, I do from time to time. There are days when I walk past the canals and look up, hoping to see the ugliest statue that ever graced this fine city. Staring at the sunset, ignorant of all those that hated it. Proud in its defiance. Ignorant of how misplaced it was.
This story originally appeared in eFiction.