Stone Soup continued

There was a scandal of course, there always is. The artistic world was at first incredulous, then embarrassed. The university team set out to prove that 'Effigy' had been created not by the hand of some genius, but by thousands of years of geological upheaval, of glacial, wind and water erosion. The stone was withdrawn for a day's intensive microscopic and comparative analysis, the results of which would have been sufficient to convince the jury in a murder trial. It was shown to be of a particular kind found among the glacial deposits in and around Estonia, though how it had come to be found in our little village remained a mystery.
        The artist and his agent gave in, issuing a statement in which all was revealed about the source of the stone if not the way it had been obtained. This was of course the point at which my village became famous for a few days, with reporters and photographers swooping for juicy carrion. The photographers were delighted with Mr Jones' surrealist creations, and the Sunday supplements were full of them. The reporters were less than happy. They hadn't reckoned on the stoic reticence of those country folk, and left muttering about lack of information and comment, some preparing damning reviews on rustic pub grub by way of revenge.
        The producers of 'Effigy' ultimately admitted that the sculpture fell into the category of a 'found object' rather than the work of man, but as such should still be considered a legitimate work of art. Legal opinion was however less than charitable, and the prize was withdrawn, the anonymous 'artist' being declared to have fraudulently deceived the jury. Some clever investigative journalism later found the sculptor and his agent were one and the same person, and an exclusive article in one of the national newspapers carried an extensive exposé of a museum curator and former art dealer of dubious morality from one of the larger regional towns.

The stone was returned to the exhibition as a novelty item and crowd puller. Those who had previously eulogised about it were noticeable by their absence, excepting a few who rather sheepishly came in for another look: some of them trying to convince themselves that they had been right all along, others wondering how they could have been so blind to such an obvious fraud. The furore around it first delighted the cynical conceptualists and seekers of controversy, and then served to irritate them more than ever when they realised the piece was drawing even more attention away from their works than before. There was no answer to the argument that, as an object, 'Effigy' was equally valid as a conceptual work as the representation of a filthy diaper, however large.

As if not enough had happened around the subversive stone, the whole tale reached its climax on the final day of the exhibition. A lone vandal with a concealed steel mallet broke through the flimsily symbolic rope barrier screaming; "IT CAN'T BE PERFECT! IT CAN'T BE PERFECT!" the hammer blows falling in time to the words. Before anyone could restrain him, he had managed to reduce the notorious 'Effigy' to chunks and splinters of useless rubble.

The character who perpetrated this act of destruction, or mercy, depending on your point of view, turned out to be seriously sick. His appearance of wiry thinness, greasy clothes, staring eyes and constant muttering showed all the classic warning signs of an unhealthily unbalanced mind - raising awkward questions about security. A brief investigation found him to have been living alone and in disgusting squalor: the kind of floor to ceiling filth which appears in documentaries through which we can all revel in the horror of real life from the comfort of our own front rooms.

Once he had calmed down a little and received some medication he was able to give a more or less coherent explanation. He claimed that the Effigy was climbing into his skull through his ears during the night in order to take on the shape of his brain. He was afraid that when the exhibition closed it would be able to take up permanent residence there.

His flat contained neither a functioning radio nor TV. He lived as a hermit, had no friends, and was as close to illiterate as made no difference. He saw only the constant images of his beloved nightmare in hundreds of pictures on the news stands, and on the mute TV screens behind high street shop windows. He had known nothing about the revelations, the scandals and the fighting artists and critics.

He admitted to being torn between the object's beauty and perfection of form and his fear for his own safety, saying that it had been made 'for him' and that he had fallen in love with it. More terrified of the approaching symbiosis, he felt he had to destroy the 'thing'. At the same, he continually implored forgiveness from the sculptor, begging to be given the bits of stone so that he could 'fix it', a request that could never be realised. The contract cleaning service, keen to impress and raise their profile from low budget ethnic-minority workers to art gallery specialists, was enthusiastic and efficient. While the dust and fragments had swiftly met with the dustpan and brush or Hoover bag, the larger lumps had already been put in bin bags and consigned to a nearby rubbish skip.