Herm chopped by Olive Custance’s ‘Peacocks. A Mood’ is a print mounted on board, which has been graffitied in gold ink.

The print shows a herm - a statue of Hermes like those found throughout ancient Athens, representing martial might and advising of communal virtues in their inscriptions (positioned between their busts and their erect phalluses). One night in 415 BC, in a climate of impending conflict, an unknown faction of the city of Athens desecrated nearly all of these herms by hacking at their prominent features. Although the hermokopidae, or herm choppers, were never identified, the historian James Fredal suggests that they could have been those denied expression by the political conventions of the time, in which debate was handled verbally and exclusively by Athenian men. The wounding of the herms then seems to be a rhetorical action counter to the dominant political power; a feminised and castrating protest.

In this work a herm is reproduced, and made the site of a different rhetorical action. The face and phallus of the statue are marked with the words of ‘Peacocks. A Mood’, a poem by the Victorian poet Olive Custance. Custance was the wife of Lord Alfred Douglas, the lover and downfall of Oscar Wilde, and despite her own affairs with women was often drawn with intense affection to effeminate men like Douglas, Wilde and John Gray. ‘Peacocks. A Mood’ hymns the beauty of wild, soft boys, yet ends with on a dark note: ‘[...] my gay youth, that, vain and debonair, / Sits in the sunshine [...] Tempts with its beauty that disastrous day / When in the gathering darkness of despair / Death shall strike dumb the laughing mouth of song.’