Sidestepping in Nantes

Sidestepping in Nantes 1

I’m travelling in north-west France and find myself in Nantes. The town straddles the Loire river. I’ve heard it’s a cool gig. Good food. Calm. I stroll around and find myself in the Place du Bouffay. A bronze figure on – well, not entirely on – a plinth catches my eye. A dude in a suit and tie is defying gravity. One foot is dangling mid-air. How the work disturbs me visually is offset by how it amuses me. It is simple but wholly different.

Sidestepping in Nantes 3

The Place du Bouffay is mid-morning quiet. Rich odours of French cuisine waft out from restaurants preparing for the lunchtime rush. I run my hand over the lace-up shoe of the dangling foot. It is smooth and comforting. Despite the building heat, the bronze is cool to touch.

Sidestepping in Nantes 2

This clearly runs against the grain of how famous people and their achievements are depicted and commemorated in public places. Who is he? An unconventional mayor from yester-year? A really rich and wacky philanthropist? And most importantly, what is the who and why of portraying him in this way?

Some research. Turns out that I got it all wrong. It is not about the dude and what he did for Nantes. It is about an attitude. The dude is the sculptor himself, Philippe Ramette, who is best known for surreal, gravity defying photos including himself in a black suit. Ramette’s unconventional attitude is captured by this, his “Éloge du pas de côté” (“Eulogy to Sidestepping”) and is embraced by a town that is audacious and makes manifest a strong commitment to culture. This is Big Public Sculpture at its enthralling best. Bravo, Nantes!

Jardin de la Bécassine

Isaac has come across some beautiful stuff that has a really unusual story. Quite by chance, he came across some guys who, in the middle of the pandemic, decided to restore a dilapidated public garden in Versoix, just outside Geneva. Using video, archival research and drone footage, he has documented the heart-warming renovation of the Jardin de la Bécassine.

A whale of a day!

The other day, before lockdown and the elections in the US, I read that a train in the Netherlands had broken through the protective barrier of an elevated track and come to rest neatly on the tail of one of two massive sculptured whales. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The sculptures are plastic and their creator, Maarten Struijs, is amazed the structure was strong enough to hold a train.

Whale 1

Wanting to get as far away from any more news, good or bad, I took my (almost) three year-old son for a walk down to Domaine de Penthes here in Geneva. We spied a strange construction. It intrigued us the more we looked at it.

Whale 2

It seemed like a mould to make a half whale. Indeed, there was a plaque saying this sculpture – installation by Christian Gonzenbach is entitled “Hval” (Whale). I love it. The inside of the “mould” is dark and shiney; it reminds me of the skin of a real whale.

Whale 3

Strangely, what I like most about Gonzenbach’s unusual work is that it’s outside – the part made of gently curving over-lapping wooden slats, reminds me of all those fabulous old whaler boats that would be rowed by ten men with another in the prow hefting the harpoon and a very long rope. My O my! Cap’n’ Ahab, how that life must have been tough. Hval! A delightful discovery on a dull Geneva day. 

Dry stone sculptures on Bohus-Malmön, Sweden

Home for a summer break. I head for the wonderful island of Bohus-Malmön with some of my oldest friends. We chat. We swim. We have a BBQ. We drink a few beers. We laugh a lot. Could it get better than this? Well, yes. It could and it does.

Dry stone sculpture 1

Day two finds us chilling on the rocky shoreline. A flattish pile of angular stones catches our eyes; maybe someone has built a sort of seaside cairn. We take a closer look. Holy moly! Check this out, guys! It’s a rocky crocky! It’s not just a pile of rocks arranged to vaguely resemble a massive reptile. The unknown person has spent quite some time and effort making this snapper and clearly has an eye for reptile anatomy. It really is quite crocodiley. I love the angular pebbles that have become those glinting predatorial eyes. I feel fascination for this work and admiration for its creator in equal measure.  

Dry stone sculpture 2

The permanent population of Bohus-Malmön is around 250. Someone must know whose deft hand has pulled these rocks together. I drop a line in a Facebook group. Willy Ociansson tells me that there are some similar and much older dry stone sculptures on the far side of the island and shares some of his own photos (thank you, Willy!).

Dry stone sculpture 3

Another crocodile! This one has lichen on it. It must be older. It’s mouth is open.

Dry stone sculpture 4

A giant python with forked stick-tongue. It’s almost smiling. It looks like it has been here for years.

Dry stone sculpture 5

The real treasure though is – for want of a better term – a technically challenging Goldsworthy arch sitting right next to a mini green Stone Henge. There is something really exciting in discovering these stone sculptures. The atmosphere is mystical and mysterious. It’s a little bit spooky. I feel some pagan ritual is about to start up any time soon. I imagine this is what it must be like to discover some cave paintings. 

Who did this? When? But most importantly, why? Is there anybody out there that knows?