Fischei Weiss, Rock on Top of Another Rock, Serpentine Gallery, London 2013
I’ve written about Rock on Top of Another Rock before but at the time I entirely failed to get round to the follow-up post about its London incarnation so I’m quite pleased to find myself back with it now by a somewhat circuitous route. A recent visit – on a rainy winter afternoon – reminded me quite how much I like the way this work pairs a simple idea with a complex and audacious challenge in terms of sourcing the materials and installing the work. The Ronseal nature of the title imparts a sense of playfulness to what is also in some ways quite a scary piece of sculpture. It’s all a matter of balance.
Not before time, thinking about Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant brings me back to London and to the oversized cock that is Katharina Fritsch’s work for the fourth plinth: Cock (or Hahn/Cock to give it its full German and English title). Of all the works yet to grace the plinth, and there have been some great ones, some less great ones and one that seemed to make it rain all summer*, I think Hahn/Cock is probably the one that has amused me the most. In the damp greyness of this less than satisfactory winter, it stands proud on the plinth ready to make people chuckle.
It’s big. It’s blue. It’s a cock. What’s not to smile at?
Marc Quin, Breath, 2012 (Isola de San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice)
My summer trip to Venice – being a holiday and all – included some things that simply weren’t part of the biennale at all. I’m no longer entirely sure why one of those things was visiting the Marc Quinn exhibition at Fondazione Giorgio Cini. I’ve liked some of Quinn’s work well enough in the past and I guess I was curious. Plus, the exhibition announced itself in that one of the works on show outside the Fondazione Giorgio Cini building was an 11m tall sculpture. Or, more accurately, an 11m tall inflatable version of an earlier Quinn sculpture. This time in a not at all fetching shade of pink.
By the side of a tourist route in Norway a large rock sits improbably on top of another rock. Were one to drive past and fleetingly glimpse this rock pairing, it would be possible to catch sight of them and wonder idly whether this was a balancing act made by man or nature. Are the rocks there to mark the way? Are the the site of some ancient ritual? Are they like that following a landslide? If one weren’t looking out for them, contemporary art probably wouldn’t be one’s first thought. In fact though, this curious arrangement – the momunmental equivalent of countless pictures on Flickr – is Rock on Top of Another Rock by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Londoners might know a newer incarnation of the work which currently occupies a site in Kensington Gardens just outside the Serpentine Galley (of which, more later I rather suspect).
What interests me here isn’t the work – though that does fascinate me and it’s a work I’d really love to see – it’s the process of proposing such a sculpture. Just as Michael Landy drew out his idea for Break Down – the subject of a previous post – so, according to Peter Fischli, who spoke about the work and the process of its commissioning at the V&A earlier in the year, Fischli/Weiss used an image as a core element of their proposal. Unlike Landy though, they didn’t make a drawing. Instead, they found an image on the internet. The nature of the image may come as a bit of a surprise…
As the media marks the death of Margaret Thatcher with blanket television coverage looking back at her time in office some familiar images are brought back to mind. But sometimes it’s hard to disentangle the memories: which of the images am I really recalling from the 1980s? In the case of the images of the 1983/4 miners’ strike, the boundaries between news footage and re-enactment are very blurry in my head. I remember the strike very well; I remember the marches and the benefit gigs, I remember throwing money into collection buckets every day on my way to and from work, probably with a ‘coal not dole’ badge on my coat, and I remember the news reports. At least, I think I do. But there’s a distinct possibility that some of that memory is somewhat second hand. The images of Orgreave that are so clear in my mind come not just from the news reports of the time, shocking though they were, but also from Jeremy Deller’s 2001 re-enactment of the event, filmed by Mike Figgis.
The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2010
Vehicles? Mention of the fourth plinth? Those who have been paying attention could probably have predicted Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle as the subject of my next post. And here it is. (Those now thinking the next one will be about Elmgreen and Dragset’s haven’t been paying attention quite long enough though; I’ve written about that already.) I’ve liked quite a few of the works commissioned for the fourth plinth – the plinth in the North West corner of Trafalgar Square in London originally intended to host some general or other on a horse, I think – but Sonibare’s is definitely one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s the sort of work I couldn’t resist going to have another look at when I was nearby, the sort of work that unfailingly made me smile even on the greyest day.
Though I’ve mentioned this work in a previous post, it seems pertinent to make it the subject of a post now given that, like David Černý’s Quo Vadis, the basis of the work is a car as a signifier of world events. The car in Jeremy Deller’s It is what it is, was destroyed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in 2007. The mangled wreckage here, as is often the case in media reports of war, stands in for the destruction of human life, in this case the deaths of thirty eight people. Though we are all too used to seeing images of such vehicles, finding oneself confronted with the real thing is a wholly different experience. Deller has gone beyond this though and taken the wrecked car on a road trip around America, using it as a catalyst for discussion about Iraq.
Though not the first thing that’ll spring to mind when we look back at the summer of 2012, bus-based art has been a bit of a theme this year. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration but I’ve seen two examples which is approximately two more than usual. While Richard Wilson’s Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea… played on our fondness for nostalgia by referencing a film that tends to be thought of with a smile, David Černý’s London Booster played to our fondness for proper London buses, albeit by suggestion rather than authenticity, since – bus pedant alert – London Booster is built around a Bristol Lodekka rather than a Routemaster (I’d like it known that I’m not enough of a bus geek to have know that without the aid of Google; all I knew was that the bus wasn’t an RM).
There’s something different about London this summer. The Olympic feelgood factor coupled with a bit of actual sunshine after the seemingly interminable rain means we seem to have found ourselves in a mood to both celebrate our country and the odder aspects of its history and traditions and to jump about. On hand to help out – as part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad – is Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege. As playful reworkings of our heritage go, a life-size bouncy castle version of Stonehenge certainly hits the spot (especially as it comes complete with anxious announcements about health and safety).