Category Archives: outdoor sculpture

Tom Dale, Banquet of Sound (2012)

Democracy has, one assumes, been going downhill since the time of ancient Greece. And here are the ruins of the principle: twelve abandoned, jumbled and toppled lecterns.

In the midst of their cluster is a nod to the classical world that spawned public speaking. But the statue which has long sat in the gardens here is the most troublesome of gods, Bacchus.

This lover of wine and experimentation is the last man standing in the in the verbal jousting matches which have led to the pile up of these metonyms of free speech.

So Dale appears to suggest we may be intoxicated by the notion of democracy. We go to war for it. We dare not speak out against it. We brand our enemies with a disregard for it.

But just what does our democracy add up to? The artist makes the point that lecterns are not only for politicians, but also celebrities, captains of industry, perhaps even bingo callers.

Their proliferation (and it must have been fairly straightforward to knock up these hollow jesmonite replicas) can be seen as a media frenzy, or a point-of-view piss up.

But cracks are already beginning to appear on the installation. In one sense this can be seen as a groundclearing exercise for something which could follow on from democracy.

That’s not to say totalitarianism, but a preferable form of democracy. A world to come, rather than a future held in place by monolithic discourses such are represented here.

Happily enough in the gardens of Ham House, they cancel out one another. Despite the title of this piece it is the quietest work on display. The only voice it waits for is your own.

Banquet of Sound can be found in Garden of Reason at Ham House until September 23. See project website for more details. And read what Dale himself said about this work in an interview for Culture24.

Huang Yong Ping: One Man, Nine Animals (1999)

Nine mythical beasts which presage disaster are on the march. A wagon used to measure time and direction lies broken on the ground. If you didn’t laugh, you might cry.

The snake with two tails foretells drought (Currently in Europe, tick). The boar with a human head foretells floods (Singapore, tick). The eagle with one claw foretells epidemic (E.Coli, tick).

These chimera come from a 2,300-year old Chinese book called Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. But any travelling party once with the installation here appears to have fled.

A clockwork figurine built into the traditional Compass Chariot is the human presence suggested by the title. Traditionally pointing South, he now appears to send the herd West.

This work was first shown in 1999 at the Venice Biennale. Those columns punctured the ceiling of the French pavilion just as they now infiltrate a Norman castle in Caen.

But the millennial angst seems fresh enough. Not even these fortifcations can keep out the sense that trouble out there may come home to roost like a cock with a human head (foretelling war).

And finally, as newsreaders say when it all gets too much, these creatures are cast in a bright and light metal, aluminium. The fish is a good sign. The monkey is ambiguous. It might never happen.

This is one of four works in the sculpture garden at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen. See gallery website for further details.

PS: I’m grateful to an anonymous document hosted by the Académie de Caen for a key to the various creatures.

Heather & Ivan Morison, Luna Park (2010)

You would think it was put there for the children. The dinosaur stands at a picnic spot, 30ft high, robust enough to throw stones at, as some of the kids are doing. So close to a beach and a circus, a hoverport and an amusement arcade, it looks here like one more piece of spectacle.

The locals are surprised by it, but perhaps not that surprised. Luna Park is based on the roadside attractions which crop up on highways in the US. We have that much context for this monster at least.

In which case we might still raise an eyebrow at the origins of this piece. It was fabricated in Serbia by workers from a now-closed car factory. They used techniques used in making the ill-fated Yugo.

This results in something looming, dark, scary and hollow, which could be seen as a warning against the ideology, as it were extinct, of the former Yugoslavia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

But when the children ask the name of this dinosaur, a nearby plaque explains it is an Ultrasauros, a species which never existed. It is a chimera based on two separate sets of bone.

So the work becomes a monument to scientific error and, if in any way a warning, then a warning based on false data. As popular entertainment, dinosaurs and socialism are still alive and well. Just take a look at this evidence gathered very near by…

Luna Park is at Southsea Common, Portsmouth, until 10 October. The accompanying film, An Unreachable Country. A Long Way To Go, can be seen at the Aspex Gallery in the city centre. See website for opening times and directions.

12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

From the 20th century onwards, the beauty of much art is it has no need for the eye of a beholder. Conceptual works, in theory, place as much importance on the idea as the finished visual object. And while lots can be said about the dozen pieces below, the kernel of each is a thought of no more than 140 characters.

This is not to assume that simple ideas are the best. But it is possible that in a time of information overload, and web-based attention spans, they are the ones that travel best. If these artworks translate into tweets, it is only a sign of their power.

  1. Benjamin Peret, Insulting a Priest (1926):
    “A black and white photo of a surrealist poet harranguing a man of the cloth, as featured in a 1926 manifesto for the liberation of desire”
  2. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953):
    “After six weeks of careful erasing a heavily worked drawing by Willem de Kooning becomes a gold-framed piece of near blank paper”
  3. Marcel Broodthaers, Femur of a Belgian Man and Femur of a French Woman (1964-5):
    “Two human bones, one from Belgian man, one from a French woman, each painted in the colours of the flags of their respective nations”
  4. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965):
    “A folding wooden chair, a photo of the same (not by the artist) and a blown up definition of the word chair to be displayed as one piece”
  5. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969):
    “A white-walled Rome gallery became a temporary stable for 12 quite mucky and fairly noisy live horses”
  6. John Baldessari, The Commissioned Paintings (1969-70):
    “Out on a walk, the artist took close up pics of a friend pointing at interesting things, then asked 14 sunday painters to paint the photos”
  7. Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City (1970):
    “The artist wears blindfold and gloves and pays a visit to a New York bar where the art world generally go to see and be seen”
  8. Jørgen Nash, Decapitated Little Mermaid (1972):
    “The head of Copenhagen’s most famous statue is cut off by (it is said) the Second Situationist International. The artist is a member”
  9. Hans Haacke, Manet-PROJEKT 74 (1974):
    “A proposal that a Manet painting be displayed next to panels giving details of all the work’s previous owners and their business activities”
  10. Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974):
    “A suburban house is cut down the middle and undermined causing it to split and thereby open a rift in the social fabric”
  11. Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991:
    “For his degree show, the artist leaves nothing in his studio but a blue plaque with the words: Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989-1991”
  12. Sherrie Levine, Fountain (1991):
    “Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal readymade has been recast in bronze to give it, at last, some respectability”

By now you should be convinced, some of the most important works of modern and contemporary art lose little from a lot of distillation. They might even work as tweets, albeit ones with plenty more to say.

More details on the 12 artworks can be found in Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey (published by Phaidon), which contains hundreds more like them all discussed in considerably more depth.

Preview: Andrew Stonyer – Audio Kinetic Solar Sculpture

Exhibition: Andrew Stonyer – Audio Kinetic Solar Sculpture, Fermynwoods, Northamptonshire, until September 26 2010

It has been a few decades since music fans frequently used terms like “cosmic” and “far out”, but such language seems about right for a new work at Fermynwoods.

Andrew Stonyer’s sculpture hangs between a small group of Elder trees and responds with movement and sound to the daily cycles of our nearest star.

The artist describes his sculpture as “a search for patterns of actual and implied kinetic imagery, hidden within the seemingly regular”.  In other words, this latest work should investigate whether or not the sun moves to a beat.

Audio-kinetic solar sculptures are nothing new apparently. Stonyer has looked to pre-classical Greece for inspiration, where there is evidence for the common enjoyment of sun-powered, sound-producing sculptures.

Another historical precedent is the notion of an Aeolian or wind-powered harp which came into fashion with romanticism. Once again it was nature calling the tune.

But not all of Stonyer’s work is quite so ethereal. A 2000 installation in the Newcastle Metro offered a kinetic response to the vibrations of passing trains. Cosmic? Maybe not, but a heavy trip all the same.

Written for Culture24.