In terms of critical discourse, Liberty contributes to the ongoing aesthetic debate on ‘the sublime.’ Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) defined the sublime as a failure of rationality in response to sensory overload: a state where the imagination is suspended, without definitive reference points—a state beyond unequivocal ‘knowing.’ I believe the events of September 11, 2001 eluded our understanding in much the same way, leaving us in a moment of suspension between awe and horror. It was an event that couldn’t be understood in terms of scope or scale. It was a moment of overload, which is so difficult to capture in art. With my work I attempt to rekindle that moment of suspension. Like the events of 9/11, Liberty defies definition. Its form is constantly changing; it is always presenting us with new layers of meaning. Nobody quite had a handle on the events that followed 9/11, because the implications were constantly shifting. In the same way, Liberty cannot be contained or defined at any moment in time. Like the events of 9/11, the full story cannot be told in a snapshot.
One of the dictionary definitions for the word ‘sublime’ is the conversion of ‘a solid substance directly into a gas, without there being an intermediate liquid phase’. With this in mind, I would like to present Liberty as a work that is literally ‘sublime.’ But what’s really interesting to me about Liberty is that it presents the sublime on all levels: in its medium, in its subject matter (that moment of suspension), and in its formal (formless) presentation. On every level Liberty is sublime—subverting all tangible reference points and eluding capture entirely.
Liberty is based on the Statue of Liberty in New York. However, unlike that statue which has stood in New York since 1886 and can be reasonably expected to stand for millennia, this work takes on diminishing proportions, carved as it is in carbon dioxide, a mysterious, previously unexplored medium—one which smokes, snows and dramatically vanishes into a harmless gas. Like the material this work is carved from, the civil liberties of the free world are diminishing fast, since 9/11 and before. This was my thought when I first conceived this work. Now it’s become evident that Liberty expresses a lot more than just this: it demonstrates the erosion of civil liberties, yes. However, it also presents the intangible, indefinable moments in the days and months that followed 9/11. The sculptural work will last for only a short time, and thereafter will exist only in documentation. During this time, the form is continually changing and self-refining, until it disappears entirely, to be inhaled, metabolised and literally taken to heart by viewers.
Jan Golembiewski, December 2002
The artist would like to thank Air Liquide Australia for their generous support in developing and supplying materials for Liberty.