Niko Hendrickx
Art in Public Places
Saturn Lommel Belgium

The sculpture, now on a traffic circle in Lommel (Limburg, Belgium), is a three -meter high steel plate robot eating a small robot. It is not, as one might think, a scene from a horror movie - the artist's inspiration was the painting Saturn by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). It is one of his so called 'black paintings', depicting a cannibalistic scene. Goya made his 'pinturas negras' toward the end of his life. He was very ill and deaf at the time, and had become isolated and depressed. His doctor advised him to paint his nightmares on the walls of the rooms he lived in.

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Myth and War

Saturn, the Greek god, fearing that his children would become more powerful than him, ate them as they were born. Zeus escaped this fate though. He was hidden and secretly reared by his mother, and later gave his father an emetic drink which made him regurgitate his children safe and sound. Goya witnessed the Napoleonic Wars in his country. He saw the soldiers' sadism and violence, and the victims' pain and fear, which he expressed in an awesome series of etchings: 'Los Desastres de la Guerra'. His century was that of the Enlightenment, but he noticed very few of the positive effects usually associated with that era. He probably saw the resemblance between the misery of his own time and the myth of Saturn. Maybe Goya was less interested in telling the old story than in showing how disappointed he was in man. Was man just turning out to be another god losing his mind through his own creations, and consequently wanting to destroy them?

Saturn, a Robot

In Hendrickx' sculpture Saturn becomes a robot. In our time, it is science that causes fear, evolving at the speed of light and deciding about life and death. Indeed, it saves and prolongs our lives, but it changes genetic material, it clones, it freezes people to resurrect them later. Is science the new god? The artist does not represent science in flesh and blood but in a technical form: the robot god. This god, too, can create things that are undesirable and may eventually drive man insane. In this way Saturn becomes a warning for the science and industry of the future. Can they rise above nature and culture? How will the new rulers use their powers? The artist asks for common sense, which should always prevail over profit in ethical questions.

Saturn and the Traffic Circle

The sculpture and the traffic circle it is exhibited on are one work of art. The symbolism of the statue is extended in the contrast between the steel plate figure of Saturn and the greenery around it. The statue symbolizes science, the flowerbed symbolizes nature. The shrubs turn red once a year, the overgrowth remains green. The red colour is a reference to the blood in Goya's painting and to the victory of science over nature.

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