Roundabouts in Martigny

I am in Martigny, le Valais, Switzerland. The small town sits comfortably in the Rhone valley surrounded by precipitous mountains. Travelling to ski in Zermatt, Verbier or Crans-Montana, you are likely to pass through here. Historically, it is a gateway to the high passes that access southern Europe. There are the remains of an old Roman fort. It is the hub of a centuries-old wine growing tradition. It is also a surprisingly rich centre for “modern art” (whatever the phrase means) and is home to the Gianadda Foundation.

Roundabouts in Martigny 1

Rudolf Blattler

My first impression is that of a clean and quiet town. It seems that the inhabitants of Martigny go about their business quietly and in an orderly fashion. Careful drivers of German cars respect the speed limits, each other and those on foot. The first impression lasts. A stroll around the streets instills a feeling of calm. For a moment, I thought I had come across the Big Luggage People from Amsterdam!

Roundabouts in Martigny 2

André Ramseyer

The major difference between this Swiss town and others is the roundabouts. In Martigny, each is a carefully maintained grassy dome on top of which sits an intriguing if not beautiful contemporary sculpture.

Roundabouts in Martigny 3

Josef Staub

Josef Staub’s massive ribbon of twisted stainless steel catches my eye. It reminds me of Gayle Hermick’s “Wandering the immeaasurable.”

Roundabouts in Martigny 4

Hans Erni

The streets provide a unique big sculpture exhibition that’s worth a visit. You can find this work by Hans Erni only fifty metres from the railway station.

Roundabouts in Martigny 5

Yves Dana

More gratifying than finding these wonders so well presented in the streets of such a town is that the brave sculptors who have allowed their souls to be bared are adequately acknowledged with handsome little signs bearing their names. These signs face the traffic coming into each roundabout; I imagine this is so the names can be read by drivers and pedestrians alike. Fantastic! Such thoughtful practice is rare in the domain of big public sculpture. Bravo, Martigny!

Gavin Bowyer’s Hanoi Twins

Social media pushes thousands of images across my visual field daily. Why am I stopped in my tracks by a photograph taken recently by Gavin Bowyer that captures a pair of the cutest smiling twin girls on roller-blades in Hanoi? I study it minutely. I return to it. I download it. I show it to friends. I decide to talk about this beautiful stuff.

Roger Clark

Copyright: Gavin Bowyer 2017

The photograph is beautifully composed and would have been very difficult to stage. The scene is set in a road but there are no cars or bicycles. An ignored pedestrian crossing gives space between the twins and the backdrop of out-of-focus people, trees and buildings; this gives an impression of social distance or even separation. The delightful and delighted twins set up a sort of symmetry tangled up by their arms and their heavy plastic-metallic footwear. Their matching black hair-dos quad the black of the roller-blades. The bright red of the roller-blades picks out the pinks of the motif on the right twin’s t-shirt, their lips and some muted reds in the far background. The bright machined metal cluttered around the twins’ unsteady feet contrasts with pretty much everything in the picture especially their bare legs; their legs, in turn, stand out from all the legs in the backdrop. Bravo Gavin! Good eye!

At first pass, this is an accomplished photograph that is at the same time very, very cute especially as the clinging twins seem so happy to be photographed. Gavin has established a rapport with them. But what I admire more about this photograph is that it generates so many questions. Are the twins clinging to each other for stability on their roller-blades or did they simply grab hold of each other in a fit of twinsome giggles when the attention of a westerner with a big camera was turned upon them? There are no obvious scratches or bruises on their knees or elbows. Is there a parent or older sibling out of field who has held their hands to prevent them falling? Why are they not wearing helmets and protection for their elbows, wrists and knees? Is this because the family is too poor? Or are the two of them simply expert roller-bladers? They seem so happy but maybe they are street children who have worked out how to appeal to and pose for snap-happy tourists? (The possibility of their being orphaned or abandoned is visually accentuated by all the background adults walking away.) This sets up a darker reflection. Are our little not-so-street-wise roller-bladers vulnerable to much, much more than scratched knees? I find that the longer I look at this totally compelling photograph, the more questions arise and the more I move from being charmed to being intrigued or even concerned. I started by admiring a twin-portrait photograph and end up wanting to know the story of its two subjects. The last question I find myself asking is: Who else thinks this is a perfect photograph?

Epilogue

Whoops! I originally attributed this photograph to Roger Clark. It turns out that the talented image-maker is Gavin Bowyer photographed here by Roger Clark with those adorable twins.

Copyright: Roger Clark 2017

It’s her day!

Andy Denzler 1

Andy Denzler “Liquid Walking Woman” 2016 Bronze

I stroll through down-town Geneva. It is hot. Very hot. Every-language tourists swarm the luxury shrines to chocolate and watches. A stunning new bronze sculpture in Place de Longemalle stops me in my tracks. It is a young woman in hoody, cut-off denim shorts and trainers walking with confidence. She holds a smartphone. Like her living counterparts, she seems unaware of her allure or the conveniences brought by smartphone culture. She is constructed of horizontal segments re-stacked. The texture contrasts effectively with the smooth skin of the presumed model. Somehow, this sculpture captures the young woman of today. It is very beautiful and very gratifying.

Andy Denzler 2

Andy Denzler “Selfie” 2016 Bronze

I look around for the plaque that names the genius behind this work. Instead, I spot the same young woman only forty metres away. She has both feet firmly planted and her smartphone held up towards her other self striding to meet her. She has that small-screen look of concentration. Is she photographing her twin, taking a selfie, recording the street scene or checking her make-up? I am captivated by these works individually and as a pair. Finding them makes my day. I wander round them admiring the poise, youth and statement that the sculptor has accomplished here. Eventually, I find a little sign that tells me these are recent works of Andy Denzler from Zurich. They are presented by and just outside the Opera Gallery.

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Andy Denzler “Selfie” 2016 Bronze (detail)

I did not grow up in the internet era nor even with a mobile phone. Denzler’s subject cannot possibly know existence without a smartphone. It is also her camera, her street map, her address book, her pen and paper, her mirror, her compass, her library, her photo album, her stereo, her shopping mall, her magazines, her cinema and much more besides. Her friends and friends’ friends, real and virtual, are connected, categorized and communicated with by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram. As for all of my generation, what mobile technologies bring to humanity is both fascinating and intimidating. Were I to find myself in conversation with Denzler’s young woman, I’d be interested to know whether she could conceive of life before smartphones. And if I said something stupid like “Well, in my day, we didn’t have such technology.” I am certain she would simply look up from the screen for a second or two, look my squarely in the eye and say politely “But it’s not your day!”

The poet who saved St Pancras station

St Pancras station 1

Copyright: Hufton & Crow

St Pancras station, London. It’s many years. I had forgotten just how huge it is. The exterior is now impeccably maintained and inside there are clean brick walls and arcades of shiny, stylish boutiques. I wander around marvelling at the elaborate Victorian architecture and the massive iron vaulting of the train-shed roof. In its day, it was known as the cathedral of British Railways and would have been full of the noise, smoke and steam of the great trains of that era.

St Pancras station 2

On the upper level of the concourse, I find a wonderful bronze statue of my very favourite poet, the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjemen (1906-1984.) He is depicted as a friendly, academic, rather paunchy figure in a well worn three piece suit with tie askew and coat tails flapping. He has to hang onto his hat to gaze up in awe at Barlow’s girdered sky. He foregoes a briefcase for a canvas hold-all in which, I imagine, there are reams of paper with all sorts of lines about seaside golf and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. He looks like such a nice old guy. I am sure that a conversation with him would have been a life-enriching experience. Here, he stands on a flat disc of Cumbria slate inscribed with lines from Cornish CliffsAnd in the shadowless unclouded glare / Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where / A misty sea-line meets the wash of air. 

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Betjemen was fascinated by the architecture and railways of Victorian times. In the 1960s, a plan to demolish St Pancras station was unveiled. He referred to this as “criminal folly.” He is now considered instrumental in the campaign that saved this great London landmark. In 2007, when the station became the international terminus for Eurostar, the sculpture was commissioned as a tribute to him.

This beautiful and touching sculpture is the work of Oxford-based Martin Jennings. His figurative style has led him to undertake similar public works of other great names including Charles Dickens and Philip Larkin. His subjects are not exclusively from the literary world, he has also commemorated in bronze the lives of two people who in different ways have advanced care for people wounded in conflict; namely, the Jamaican-born nurse, Mary Seacole who assisted wounded servicemen in the Crimean War and the World War II plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe.

On leaving St Pancras, I notice that a bar in the corner is called…. guess what….. “The John Betjemen”! To be remembered by a fabulous public sculpture and to have a bar bearing one’s name is a double honour. Then I guess you merit both if you wrote wonderful poems and saved a station.

More Geneva cave paintings!

One of our readers, Sari Setiogi, has photographed and curated a fantastic collection of Geneva cave paintings on her Instagram. Which one do you like the most?