I watched a programme the other night on the Iconoclasts and the destruction of English Religious Art during the 16th and 17th centuries. Seeing the sculptures with their faces hacked and limbs broken off, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful these images really were; paintings with faces rubbed away, headless sculptures surrounding effigies and so on. There is a beauty in the destruction, a marker of man’s presence which is, distrurbingly perhaps, more palpable than any sculpture could ever be. Perhaps it is the mark of the common, ordinary man as opposed to the rare being which makes these destroyed images so imminent. It takes little to smash; quite the opposite to create. Or perhaps the rough hewn cuts, cleaving the stone are evidence of a moment; a moment in time which through its violence is as immediate as a haiku. 300 years can pass in the few seconds it takes to read one. 300 years can pass in the second it takes to see the mark of an axe.
As I thought about what I’d seen – the whitewashed walls and the triumph of words over imagery, I couldn’t help but see memory in much the same light. As soon as the outside world enters through our eyes, memory sets to work with its own hammers and chisels, striking out and smashing the retained image to pieces. And even though our memories – like the sculptures and paintings vandalised during the Reformation – are vague, they are nonetheless imminent windows which compress time as effortlessly as the axe and the haiku.