In 2003 at the United Nations Headquarters, my wife nee girlfriend and I reflect on our place in the world. She was raised in India and me, Ohio; the Internet and New York brought us together.
We are both reflected in the sphere. The UN General Assembly Building looms largest, behind security tents erected to shake down the public at the Visitors' Entrance. On the left of the reflection are 193 flags, those of the UN and 192 member nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe -- not Taiwan, not Tibet -- only member nations.
The sculpture is called "Sfera con sfera" or "Sphere within a sphere," by Arnaldo Pomodoro of Italia. It was presented by them to the UN in 1996; this is a photo of its unveiling. If you have Google Earth installed, you can see this sculpture in Google Earth, and I place all my photos on flickr's map.
Wikipedia reports that Sphere within a sphere is now installed in five places, the Vatican Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, the UN HQ in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the University of California, Berkeley. I am tempted to update Wikipedia, to mention other spheres of Pomodoro, such as his famous sphere at Pesaro in Italia which the locals call "Palla di Pomodoro" (Pomodoro's Ball). Pomodoro was born near Pesaro and now lives and works in Milan. For more about Pomodoro, see his bios at www.artnet.com/artist/13632/arnaldo-pomodoro.html and www.italica.rai.it/eng/principal/topics/bio/pomodoro.htm.
What do the sculptures mean, each a sphere within a sphere?
Both the outside and inside spheres are polished, reflective bronze with fractured or imperfect surfaces. The surface gaps show how both spheres are constructed of what looks like machinery, metal teeth and gears.
Consider the 2007 report "Public Sphere and Civil Society? Transformations of the European Union," Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo. From page 61,
"Linguistic boundaries, cultural heterogeneity, and the fact that media systems are strongly bound to national mass audiences are crucial ... to the formation of a unified European public sphere, which would be a replication on the European level of the structure we know from national media systems. Several scholars (e.g., Gerhards 1993, 2000, Schlesinger and Kevin 2000) have therefore come to argue that the potentially emerging European public sphere must be sought within the national public spheres of the various European countries. This perspective maintains that Europeanisation “is for the most part dependent on the output of the national media” (Kevin 2003:52)."
I do not know Pomodoro's view of the EU or "Europeanisation of national public spheres," but with Sfera con sfera gifted to the UN by Italy, its meaning becomes clear. The metaphor of a "national public sphere" is spot on. The surface reflects our world and ourselves, just as our media reflect us. The sphere is imperfect as are we.
The surface is beautiful and profound and its goal is a visual perfection, but it is constructed in two ways that seem antithetical. First it requires direct and logical, mechanical work. To construct a supranational civil society will require hard and thoughtful work. Secondly though, this goal requires the presence of, and continued work upon the internal sphere -- which is the national, subcultural reflection of the supranational culture. As in the Oslo report, to know what it is to be European requires knowing better what it means to be Italian or German.
The mechanics of this dichotomy are similar in social spheres like our media and in personal spheres, within our own experiences. Perhaps these are the two spheres to which Pomodoro refers -- the personal and the social -- or perhaps it is the national and the global as I suppose the UN installation suggests.
American university scholars have over-used the construct of one's experience in minority diaspora to inflate programs studying Native Americanism, African Americanism, Asian Americanism, and every variety of the like. There are many things to be said for the diasporic experience in a general sense and the particular examples are illuminating; still, our experiences per culture are not so unique as American university scholars would have us believe.
In a community like flickr, we can all know better what it is to be a citizen of the world while simultaneously learning what it is to be who else we are. We do not need to have been a minority in our home cultures to experience being a minority in the global society, because in the global society, we are all minorities.
Pomodoro's commentary on this unifying experience was a great first occasion to square the circle.