Looking at Quinn’s wider body of work on his personal website, it seems that the statue of Lapper was part of a larger project that explored disability and our accepted ideas of aesthetic beauty and the human body, based as they are on renaissance ideals:
“I was in the British Museum looking at people admiring the fragmented marble statuary, when it struck me that if someone whose body was in the same shape as the sculptures were to come into the room, most of the admirers would have the opposite reaction. It was interesting to me to see what is acceptable in art, but unacceptable in life. As I made the series of works, I realised that they were also about what a beautiful body is, and how narrow our vision of that is, and about the connection between inside and outside. By that I actually mean disconnection, for when one of the models for these pieces closes their eyes, they feel the same inside as you or I, yet often physically disabled people are treated as if they are mentally disabled. Although the models’ bodies are visually comparable to the antique fragmented marble statues, of course my sculptures are portraits of whole people and not fragments of people. That was interesting to me, too.” – Marc Quinn, Recent Sculptures Catalogue, Groninger Museum, 2006
The idea that the Venus de Milo is an ideal of beauty but she actually has no arms; if we saw a woman who embodied the beauty of the Milo Venus but like the sculpture had no arms, would she still generally be considered as beautiful? Is Lapper considered beautiful?
“Interestingly all of these works were carved in the same town that a lot of the Renaissance and neo-classical statuary came from. There is a direct physical link between the neo-classical perfection of Canova and these marbles. Except, by using “imperfect” bodies, Quinn is bringing into question the very notion of perfection central to the neo-classical project. It’s true also that they express the idea of an idea which itself never really existed, since classical statuary was, after all both complete and painted.”
Questions raised, frameworks shaken, notions challenged – this is what gives art value, to my mind. The works oscillate between whole and fragmentary, which is deliberate in my opinion. The completeness of the Venus de Milo is imaginary, Lapper’s is real, but so is her fragmentation – or is it constructed? The questions Quinn raises are social as well as aesthetic. Although the statues were modelled on real people, their classical museum status lends them a generic, metaphoric quality.
“Lots of Quinn’s works question the Freudian dictum that biology is destiny. ‘The Complete Marbles’ are really about how biology isn’t destiny. All these people have overcome the biological roadblocks in their lives. Marble is the classical material for heroes of ancient times and these people are modern day heroes because they have dealt with their bodies and inner worlds. Their free will has conquered biological destiny and so they become celebratory.” Quinn is not so much celebrating disability as questioning the notion of the ideal body as site of celebration. As with a lot of contemporary practice, the idea is that nobody really achieves this ideal, and that normal bodies are in fact all different shapes and sizes, and this diversity should be celebrated.