Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sculpture for our times

click photo to enlarge
The global recession and the decline in the UK's finances is likely to put paid to the plans for further gargantuan public sculptures. It's a brave (or foolhardy) government or local authority that lets itself be seen spending millions on big lumps of metal whilst people are selling the family silver to keep a roof over their heads or put food on the table. And on the whole I think I'll be pleased to see a halt called to these sculptures.

In May the newspapers were full of pictures and articles about the five short-listed sculptures for a proposed "Angel of the South" at Ebbsfleet, Kent. Developers decided that this rail terminal that is to be developed into a New Town needed to be put on the map, and a massive sculpture taller than the Statue of Liberty was the way to do it. The short-listed candidates were a steel latticework, a giant white horse 33X life size, 5 stacked cubes with a laser beam shining up at the sky, an artificial earth mount topped with a cast of the inside of a Victorian house, and a concrete disc and detached wing forming a sort of amphitheatre. In October the list was shortened to the first three, and the winner will be announced in January. Or not? Apparently the horse is the favourite because chalk white horses, made on hillsides by cutting off the turf, are "English" (this one is three-dimensional), and Kent's symbol is a rampant white horse (this one's just standing there looking bored). I hope sense and financial prudence will scotch the whole thing. I have nothing against public sculpture, and have on more than one occasion, in this blog, described it as a public good. But I prefer pieces that impress themselves on you through their art, not force themselves on you by their size.

Walking past a parked disc harrow the other day I took this shot of part of the machine that was folded into the vertical position. As I looked at it on my computer, and particularly when I converted it to black and white, it occurred to me that the stacked, scalloped discs would make a good sculpture at very little cost. Perhaps if the Ebbsfleet developers ditch the white horse and re-canvas for a cheaper option I'll enter the competition. After all, what could be more appropriate for the County of Kent, "The Garden of England", than an agricultural machine!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70mm (140mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On