In 2000, Nottingham Castle Museum & Gallery commissioned Nicola Lane to create an installation of her Monuments to Incompleteness series for Nottingham's city-wide VITAL festival, which examined issues relating to the body and disability. In her text for the festival Nicola describes the creative journey that led to Monuments to Incompleteness:
"In 1968 I was an art student at St. Martin’s, and one day I decided to visit the National Gallery in my lunch hour. On my way to the Gallery I was run over by a bus in Trafalgar Square, losing my left foot under the gaze of one-armed and one-eyed Nelson on his column - a national hero perceived as heroic rather than disabled. I became a professional artist but my work did not consciously represent my disability until 30 years later, when in 1999 I applied to the Bader Foundation to fund a series of work exploring and communicating my own experience of disability.
To achieve this I began to work with ceramic artist Chris Bramble, exploring hand-built clay and the plaster mould-making techniques common to both prosthetists and sculptors. Referencing Nelson’s Column, I chose to memorialise the narrative of my limb loss by creating maquettes of my own monuments, using found objects and narratives that are essentially incomplete and through the making process transforming them into the heroic.
There are 6 Monuments to Incompleteness. Monument#1 ( pictured above) is inspired by a plastic bubble-bath bottle that lost its head. Prosthetics is the art of attaching inert material to the unpredictable body, so he has been given a new head that will (hopefully) fit him.
I found the head in a junkshop, and discovered that in order to save money, out of date mannequin heads are decapitated and discarded, so that more fashionable heads can be fitted to the old body..."
"Monument to Incompleteness#4 (pictured above) was inspired by a plastic toy soldier, discovered thirty years ago by the late Mike Lesser when working in his father's plastics factory, where, as the injection moulding machine pumped out its plastic army, he witnessed the little soldier being born.
Something had gone wrong with the pressure. The soldier's boots and rifle butt were perfectly filled, but the rest of him was chaos! The Factory Manager was deeply disturbed by this malfunction – a rare occurrence in the world of injection moulding - and he threw the aberrant toy soldier into the waste bin. Mike Lesser rescued him from the bin and put him in his pocket.
"Monument to Incompleteness #3 (pictured below) is another heroic toy soldier whose individuality is the result of accident: not enough tin to fill the mould. This piece is accompanied by the Hans Christian Anderson text that inspired the piece."
From The Constant Tin Soldier by Hans Anderson / The Bodley Head / 1945
"There were once five-and-twenty Tin-soldiers, all brothers, for they had all been made out of one old tin spoon. They carried muskets in their arms, and held themselves very upright, and their uniforms were red and blue- very gay indeed. The first word that they heard in this world, when the lid was taken off the box wherein they lay, was "Tin soldiers!" It was a little boy that made this exclamation, clapping his hands at the same time. They had been given to him because it was his birthday, and he now set them out on the table. The soldiers resembled each other to a hair; one only was rather different from the rest: he had but one leg, for he had been made last, when there was not quite enough tin left; however, he stood as firmly upon his one leg as the others did upon their two. And this identical Tin-soldier it is whose fortunes seem to us worthy of record..."
In response to the Nottingham Castle Museum commission for the VITAL festival, Nicola created Monument to Incompleteness #5 (pictured below), casting her crutches into plaster, displayed in a reliquary box based on the sepulchre in The Body of the Dead Christ (1521) by Hans Holbein the Younger.
Equipment designed to support and enable mobility becomes as fragile as the unpredictable body. Casting the crutches was technically challenging, and the plaster crutches began to break as soon as they came out of the mould. Each time they are exhibited, they break a little bit more.
In Trial and Error (pictured below) Nicola displayed the 'mistakes' from the casting process, identifying the parallels between her own practice and the prosthetist's craft. In the exhibition text Nicola wrote:
"These are the relics of plaster casts that 'went wrong' as so often happens with any making process, including prosthetics. In the Limb Fitting Centre, patient and prosthetist know that taking a cast and turning it into a well fitting prosthesis is a process in which many things can 'go wrong'. Trial and Error is as much a part of the prosthetists's craft as it is part of an artist's practice."
The VITAL commission also specified a piece that could be touched and heard. After discovering the story of Paul Wittgenstein (brother of Ludwig), an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War, Nicola created Monument to Incompleteness #6: Ravel's Concerto For the Left Hand (pictured below), again referencing Nelson and his one arm, also lost in battle:
A 1932 recording of Paul Wittgenstein playing the Concerto could be listened to on headphones, and Nicola's text about the piece could be read on the piano's music stand:
" Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist (and brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein) lost his right arm during World War 1, when he was serving as a dragoon officer in the Austrian army. Although wounded and taken prisoner by the Russians, family connections secured his early release, and he was back in Vienna before the end of the War.
There he devoted himself to acquiring the technique necessary for playing the piano with just the left hand. But piano literature provided a very small repertory for one hand, so Wittgenstein began to commission piano pieces from the leading contemporary composers, including Richard Strauss, Eric Korngold, Franz Schmidt, Benjamin Britten and Maurice Ravel.
Paul Wittgenstein commissioned Ravel in 1930; and it is this piece, out of all his commissions, that has become a well-known part of the piano repertoire.
In his book on Ravel, Roger Nichols has written: "Ravel himself commented on the imposing, traditional style in which the Concerto begins and clearly he wanted to quash from the start any notion that this was a concerto for half a pianist..."
Some pianists incurred Ravel's displeasure by suggesting the piece be re-worked for two hands. But Jacques Fevrier, Ravel's favourite interpreter of the Concerto, confirms that: "...the writing lies better for one hand than for two. The only neccessity is that the hand should be a large one."
Paul Wittgenstein gave the first performance of Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand in Vienna, on January 5th, 1932."
As a postscript Nicola writes:
" I believe this piece would incur Paul Wittgenstein's displeasure, as my dismembered piano is an old upright, a 'cottage piano', the kind that used to be in almost every home. My funds could not extend to a Grand Piano, which would properly reflect Paul Wittgenstein's status. Perhaps one day Monument to Incompleteness #6: Ravel's Concerto For the Left Hand could be re-made with the correct piano..."