This work produces new environments for a sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago collection—Stone Image of Nandi, Bull Mount of Siva, Java, 8th-9th century—which attempt to show how the positioning of this piece by the museum neuters (disempowers and displaces) and neutralizes (empties of meaning). The Nandi in the first room reverses the museum orientation—yet resembles that of a Siva temple where he would be approached from behind as he stares into the main temple, called the womb chamber, at the linga, a phallic representation of the god Siva. During the ritual in which Siva is persuaded to inhabit the linga so that he can be worshipped, the linga is bathed with the five ambrosias—honey, sugar, clarified butter, curds and milk. In the installation, Nandi stares into a room occupied by hollow imitations of his own form, and empty containers which once held the products we would associate with the five ambrosias are formed into phallic triplets and stored above Nandi’s sight.
In a Hindu temple, infertile women may pass by to touch his testicles, hoping to increase their chances of having a child. In the museum his testicles are unseen—in fact he is often misrecognized as an ox, a cow, or even a lamb or goat. He is unknowingly neutered by all who see him. The multiplication of testicles in the first room represent the usurping of power of the Nandi, the vehicle of Siva, and a god in his own right, by the institution. The fact that he is approached from the front in the museum neutralizes the image. He is seen as every other western sculpture of any antiquity which is assumed to exist to cover up some architectural structure. This aestheticizes the image and allows it to become merely “cute.”