Intactness, or: Crouching Venus / Helen Slaney

H Slaney - Crouching Venus (2)
Photograph: Helen Slaney

Haunted by replicas, by reduplication. By all of my sisters, all my sororial twins. But I am unique: this damage is mine. What identifies me is my brokenness.

Some of my sisters, they have prosthetics. They are enhanced by other women’s limbs, transplanted, re-crafted. Well before bionics, well before implants, well before robotic pincers that grip surgical instruments better than fallible human hands, there was us. There were me.

We used to be dismembered. Around the time Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein, somebody reassembled me. My husband, remember, according to the poets, the Greek god of technology, Hephaestus, was attended by an entourage of gold female automata.1 Talk about Pygmalion. Bringing a single mannequin to life – why limit yourself? Why not animate an entire shopfloor? You would have to restore us first, of course, out of the fragments you find in the Borghese basement. And what if you (or I) ended up with too many arms? What kind of monstrosities could you cook up from the scraps?2 Our limbs are all interchangeable, after all; we are modular, like classical Lego: our heads, our armbands, our toes, the folds of our bellies, our… I nearly went on into “wombs”, there, but of course our interior is stone, inanimate, barren, intractably material. Given the chance, we’d revert to geology. Boil us for mortar, we’d make you a building. That’s what happened to old mother Rome herself, says Edward Gibbon, whose own body sat itself down in the ruins and gaped, aghast, at the way the city was built out of her own entrails, churches squatting in gutted monuments.

This pernicious ideology of completeness cannot account for my multiplicity, nor my successive states of being over time: as rock, as sculptor’s medium, as artwork, as fragment, as replica, as fetish, as muse, as artefact, as digitised image.

How am I to be consumed next?


1. Homer, Iliad 18.417-20.

2. ‘Fragments of gods & Senators are jumbled into the same figure of furies & Graces, till it comes out a monster.’ Barry, quoted in Boulton & McLoughlin 2012, 268.


Helen Slaney is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Her current research investigates haptic responses to ancient material culture in the late eighteenth century. She is also involved in the practice-based project Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers and has been affiliated with the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama since 2009.

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