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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Bits and Pieces

Well, actually, just a couple of pieces on this occasion, the first one really an update to an earlier post, that on Environmental Art in which I was extremely critical of Mark Wallinger's proposal for a white horse 33 times life size to occupy a currently vacant field on the site of the not-yet-built Ebbsfleet. It will, it is said, do for Ebbsfleet what The Angel of the North has done for the North East: it will regenerate the area by giving it an identity, an iconic image. My reservations mainly concern the scale, and would extend to any other naturalistic sculpture plonked down out of scale and out of context with its surroundings. The other contenders are: Rachel Whitehead's pile of recycled rubbish with a house set on top; Richard Deacon's towering 26 interlocking steel frames; Daniel Buren's disc, rather like a huge T.V. receiving dish, set with wings and Christopher le Brun's tower of cubes of diminishing size. They all, to my mind, qualify as that which Joan Bakewell has called plop art.

I said that my objections relate to naturalistic works out of scale and context. One of the comments levied at my May post raised the example of The Colossus of Rhodes, a valid point. The Colossus was a represention of the Greek God Helios. Unfortunately, we cannot know what the Colossus looked like or how it related to its environment. It is thought that it stood at the entrance to the harbour at Rhodes. Some authorities have it standing astride the entrance, in which case, of course, there would be good reasons for its size, reasons that would put it in some sort of relationship with its environment, as, for example, is the Statue of Liberty.

As also is, I believe from what I have seen and read, the new statue Aspire at Nottingham University. Aspire is meant to emphasize to the students that they may aspire to anything. It was unveiled on the 24th of June, its completion having been delayed by high winds. An inverted cone shape, with a somewhat lacy feel to it (Nottingham is famour for its lace), it marks the sixtieth anniversary of the granting of the university's charter and it stands sixty meters high, and is the first reason for this post. It is, I believe, the perfectly acceptable face of "non plop" art.

To give some comparisons: The Angel of the North is 66 feet high, The Colossus of Rhodes was 110 ft and Christ the Redeemer is 120 feet, Aspire is 197 ft.

But we are not finished: there is more updating to be done as the taste for bigger and yet bigger art works grows apace, for a few days ago Amish Kapoor stepped upon the stage to unveil plans for five colossal works of art, a joint project of himself and Cecil Balmond, a structural designer. This autumn Kapoor will be working on the first of these, Temenos (Here for virtual tour), a £2.7 million steel structure which will dwarf its chosen site in Middlehaven, Middlesborough. A series of circular steel rings and cables, it will weigh in at some 66 tonnes and be almost fifty meters high and a hundred and ten meters long. The plan, the hope, is for these sculptures to go a long way towards regenerating the Tees Valley and "be a potent symbol for the whole of Tyneside".

And the motive for me posting this update? It is to put the other side of the coin. I possibly gave the impression in my previous post that I was "against" all sculpture conceived on a colossal scale, but so far as I can judge from what information is available at present, these latter proposals strike me as being in tune with their surroundings and the very opposite of plop art. I may prove to be wrong in that, of course. Kapoor's proposals have not even receivd planning permission as yet.

Dud Novels

A surprise decision by the judging panel of the
Man Booker Prize
has been to plant trees for every poor novel submitted for their consideration. The philosophy, it would seem, goes something like this: trees had to be pulped to produce this rubbish, so the least we can do is try to replace them. That is as far as they have yet got in the decision-making. They still have to decide where to plant these trees and how many. Should there be just one tree per bad novel, or a whole copse, perhaps? How many trees does it take, I wonder, to launch a crappy book upon the unsuspecting public? And what sort of tree? A weeping willow springs to mind.
But perhaps the most important decision still to be made is whether or not the offending novel(s) should be named and shamed - as is inceasingly becoming the custom these days in all walks of life. If so, I have a sneaky suspicion that the sales for the duds will soar by at least as much as the long- and perhaps even the short-listed books. Perhaps in twenty-five or fifty years time (or some other Man Booker Prize anniversary) we might even hear of a book winning the "Dud of Duds Award" - maybe having a whole forest to itself?


Anonymous said...

I'm not going to really comment about large-scale public art except to say that I like some of it, and the White Horse has the sort of scale that will cause more than a bit of confusion for motorists.

I actually wanted to comment on Nottingham Uni's new spire. I rather like it, but what actually amuses me is that there used to be (may still be) a very tall brick chimney on the campus which my dad (an alumnus and therefore presumably in the know) informed me was known as the 'D H Lawrence Phallic Memorial' by local wits. I wonder how long it will take before the new spire gets its own 'personal' name?
(The one erected on O'Connell Street in Dublin was known during its erection as 'the pole in the hole'.)

Marion McCready said...

What I find more interesting than the proposed large-scale art-works themselves is the actual current interest in large-scale public art, what it says about our society i.e. our current need for iconic images. The Communists were good at large-scale art, iconic images help draw a nation together, helps us feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that in turn provides our lives with a sense of purpose and therefore meaning. Or maybe that's just me, lol.

I laughed when I read about planting trees for crappy books - what a great idea!

Jim Murdoch said...

Of the two I think I prefer Temenos but I'm not sure that I appreciate the size of either of them. It's like The Monument of Dublin (aka 'The Spike') which is 390ft high. It's sort of impressive as an engineering feat but its art really bypassed me I have to say. At least The Angel of the North looks like a work of art and not something I'd do in techie drawing class. It's not that I think all public art should lean towards realism but I think is should be stimulating. 'The Spike' is a very tall cone and that's it and Aspire is pretty much the same, an upside-down cone with a bit sliced off. Why not a ginormous hand reaching for the sky or would that be too obvious a visual metaphor?

Dave King said...


Thanks for dropping by and welcome. Thanks also for your interesting comment. I had vaguely heard somewhere about the Lawrence phallic memorial, but wasn't sure if the story was apocryphal. The fact that the new memorial is "lacy" might cause problems when choosing its new name - or might suggest one, maybe!

Dave King said...

Good point. It is perhaps an aspect that needs a post (or two) all to itself. The mention of the Russian's use of large scale sculptures is apt and reminds me that the Mother Russia statue (which I neglected to include among my comparisons, though I had it in my notes) is 279 feet tall - to the tip of her upraised sword, though the top of her head would be just short of Aspire's height.

Jim Murdoch said...

I tried to drop you an e-mail, Dave but it got knocked back. The address I'm using is: David_King@jubii.co.uk - is this right?

Dave King said...

Ihave a lot of sympathy with what you say. I do not feel strongly about large scale art in general, but I do think that some of it loses all sense of scale, which dehumanizes it, if I can put it that way, and we lose contact with it. That really is the point I was trying to make.
The ginormous hand appeals to me.

hope said...

Since I'm in no position to view the sculptures first hand, I'll pass.

As for the "Duds"...wouldn't it be more fun if, after the judging of bad books, the punishment was that the AUTHOR had to plant the trees? :)

Dave King said...

Great thought... still might help to sell the bad books, though, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Point by and large taken, Dave. But I shall always have a soft spot for Claes Oldenburg's giant burger (and the clothes-peg, and the binoculars...)

Dave King said...

Also point taken... and the shuttlecock and apple core... but not really gigantic perhaps, not off the radar so far as scale is concerned.

Conda Douglas said...

I love your "plop art" as a description of this phenomenon. I would also add that this is a modern expression of a primal human need to "leave our mark" upon our world.

And I know you're right--it doesn't matter what they say about you, just as long as they spell your name (and the title of your dud book) right!

Rachel Fox said...

Can I just say that that 'plop art' term is really disturbing me...is that a huge Monty Python turd on the horizon or am I just hallucinating again?

Dave King said...

Yes, I am sure you are right about our 'primal human need to "leave our mark" upon our world', it's perhaps an aspecy that we do not take into account as often as we should.

Dave King said...

Hallucinatin, I am afraid, but it may very well come to that before long!

Marion McCready said...

lol, I've tagged you to list the last book, cd, and film that you have purchased.