Mags Harries, Asaroton (Unswept Floor), 1976
Asaroton was a public art project by Mags Harries for Massachussetts' bicentennial in the Haymarket in Boston. Market debris has been cast in bronze and embedded in a crosswalk, part of Boston's Freedom Trail. 'Asaroton' describes Roman scraps of food, long since fossilised. And then in the title comes (Unswept Floor) with its guilty domesticity. This piece marks the market and the detritus left on the streets and in the gutters when the market closes. It valorises the everyday: a crushed cardboard box in bronze becomes a beautiful, abstract thing, without monumentality, something difficult to achieve at the scale of a public art project.
We have so much monumentality, so much at the large scale, so many broad strokes in our cities. The public realm, or the fairly meaningless descriptions 'public space' or even worse, 'green space' is not developed from the small detail, the scale of the foot or the hand, but is constructed at the scale of the crane, the flatbed truck, the swipe of brick paving texture on the plan.
One does wonder if civic public art programs which take a percentage of the cost of new developments for sculpture on the street, or on the plaza, or on the plinth are necessary compensations for the lack of the small-scale intimate detail in the modern city. It isn't about supporting art, as is claimed, but is a deep desire to achieve beauty that in other eras was a component of ordinary civic engineering.
Historic 18th century Boston is stuffed with beauty; perhaps this is why it understood a project that is so essentially humble and tender.