I first walked the stalkers’ track near Scourie in Sutherland, Scotland in 1982. Each return is a nostalgic and near-spiritual experience. This ancient and glaciated landscape is home to red deer, adders, tiny frogs and countless bird species including an occasional golden eagle. The lochs teem with small brown trout. The only sounds are the wind and the mournful call of golden plovers. That same wind carries a peaty fragrance with hints of heather and bog myrtle. This is a place that fills the senses and lifts the soul.
For some reason, maybe to look at a wild orchid or one of the small carnivorous plants that can be found here, I step off the track. I notice a wonderful little dry stone bridge that I must have walked over twenty times. I have never thought about how the track, that must have been laid at least one hundred years ago, actually crosses the multiple small streams that flow off these hills. I am fascinated. My canine buddy tells me I should look at this from the other side.
Just fabulous! To think, through its existence, this cementless structure has withstood floods and snow drifts together with the weight of human traffic whether on foot, horse and carriage or landrover.
A kilometre along the track, I find another but with a single span. I notice these hardy little bridges are constructed from stones available on the spot. Large stones are stacked and stabilised with small stones wedged in. Maybe flatter stones were hauled in to make the cross pieces but it is difficult to look at them closely; they have been here for so long that they are now covered with heather and are just part of the track. As with the dry stone walls in this part of the world, I admire the skill and plain hard work of the unknown master crafts(wo)man/men who created these little gems.
These bridges have a rustic, aged beauty accentuated by how they are now integrated into the environment. I find a third; it is so overgrown that, to see it, I have to step into the stream bed. My day just gets better.
Who else has noticed the dry stone bridges of the stalkers’ track? I wonder if I have happened upon a long-forgotten little bit of antiquity. Does or should some kind of preservation order apply in the event of maintenance or upgrade of the track? I try to contact the office of the estate concerned but without success. An internet search reveals nothing about these bridges (but I find there are courses on how to make one!) Is there an engineer-historian out there who knows about them? It would be great to hear from you.
This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.
I am near Queenstown, New Zealand. An American golfer admires the view of the magnificent Lake Wakatipu. “I’m just all outa wows!” he says. The golf course is truly lakeside. It is very pretty. My game does not do the setting justice. By the fifth green, I am ready to give up. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that what I first thought was a weather-beaten tree stump is something much more interesting.
I am drawn towards it and….. my O my…. how my heart thumps. Big metallic sister stuff!
Mark Hill‘s 2015 untitled sculpture serves up a wonderful surprise in this setting. The feminine form is tall, imposing, defiant and very beautiful. I love her. In elegant gown and with hair streaming behind her, she stares out over the lake daring the elements to throw their worst at her.
What I admire most is Hill’s technical mastery of his materials. He has used corten and stainless steels to create an astonishing impression of soft leather with bright hand-stitched piping. How he has designed, cut and put together those wind-blown locks is beyond me. This is a work of industry and passion.
I spend some minutes walking around the Lady of Lake Wakatipu. I even pose a question or two. Does she ever get cold? Does she get lonely? She ignores me of course. But encountering such a resilient woman lifts my spirits. With renewed determination, I make my way to the sixth tee.
Art Geneva 2018 has come and gone. What remains is a series of sculptures selected for the lakeside extension of this ever-growing art fare. I think this is the best part of the whole show. I love it. Big, bold public sculpture in an ideal setting. There’s just one problem. It’s minus 6 degrees by the lake today. The wind barrelling down from Lausanne makes it colder still. Wave-made icicles hang off “no swimming” signs (!) and mooring ropes. Only a few hardy dog-walkers and I are out and about. Somehow, the sculptures stand immune to and united against the blistering cold.
Gonzalo Lebrija “Cubo Torcido” Polyurethane paint on steel, 2017
Gonzalo Lebrija’s twisted cube sits on a neat and clean base. It is itself a neat and clean structure. The smooth worked steel makes for blade-like lines. I run my numb thumb down it’s frozen edges. The proportions and feel are pleasing.
Anthony Gormley “Big Take” Forged iron, 2014
O frabjous day! An Anthony Gormley. Somehow, someone from Art Geneva has managed to snag from somewhere and install here a work by the master of forged iron big public sculpture. I walk around it. No clean base this time but some carefully laid turf. Were it not for the temperature, I would sit by it for an hour or so and simply admire its balanced cuboid proportions. It makes me happy.
Barry Flanagan “Large monument” Bronze, 1996
My third choice is Barry Flanagan’s “Large monument”. The name doesn’t help understand what passed through the sculpter’s mind in the creative process. Maybe this builds on the intrigue. I am sure there is a reference to some otherworld fantasy. (It reminds me of Paul Dibbles very real-world “Calici scythe“) Three happy rabbitoid figures prance and dance atop a tall, rough, solidly-sitting throne-like thingummyjig. A fourth figure sits pensively as though he/she/it is bored with the prance-dance. The reason I admire it is that whilst it is certainly a “large monument,” I can’t see Mr Flanagan taking the necessary work terribly seriously. I think he just had fun.
If you can’t brave the cold now wait a week or so for a slightly warmer Geneva lakeside to take in these sculptures. Individually and collectively, they are immensely gratifying.
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.
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!
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.
Josef Staub’s massive ribbon of twisted stainless steel catches my eye. It reminds me of Gayle Hermick’s “Wandering the immeaasurable.”
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.
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!
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.
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?
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