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.
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.
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!
This is a guest post by Boffy Burgoon, Art Correspondent for the Bulletin of Particle Physics.
I’m on the road to Durness, Northern Scotland. Single-lane with passing places. It winds its way through some of the most majestic landscapes that Great Britain has to offer. The many motoring enthusiasts, caravanners, campervanners, hikers, bikers and cyclists who toil their way along this part of the North Coast 500 are rewarded with magnificent views of long-ago-glacier-smoothed hills, hanging valleys, gushing peat-stained rivers, lochs of an unfathomable gun-metal hue, red deer and even eagles. This is country that fills my soul.
If you decide to brave the euro-touro logjam of the NC500 you may wish for a distraction albeit a distraction that is altogether startling in such an environment. Turn off the Durness Road (the A 838) at Rhichonich onto the B 801 towards Kinlochbervie. After about three kilometres, you will be confronted by Rusty McCrushem’s latest car mash installation. It is his most challenging to date. Unlike his earlier piles of rusted and discarded automobiles scattered over Scotland, this has a brilliantly thought through temporal element and takes car mashing to new heights.
At first pass, I see only cars that are more or less in tact. Rusty teases us with the odd patch of rust, flaking paint, delicately shattered windscreens, a dented door here and a missing wheel there. These once shining objects of commerce and pride are of no further vehicular use; they are now abandoned. However, they seem somehow at ease in their weed-ridden, road-side rest home for cars. Rusty broadcasts a message for the as yet unimpressed viewer: “Och, you’ve nae seen anything yet!”
And then I notice the forces of destruction that Rusty commands. This gives the whole a kind of lambs-to-slaughter feel. Is this a sly McCrushem nod to the one-way street of universal decay?
Rusty’s innate talent for mashing cars pummels the senses. The results are spectacular. I feel I have come across a scene of extraordinary violence but the screams of twisted automotive pain are stilled now. Only the curlew calls.
It’s difficult to imagine how this obliteration was achieved. I stand jaw-dropped in fascination. It is at once shocking and thrilling. The juxtaposition of highland scenery and motorway pile-up is difficult to accommodate. Russian dissidents come to mind. A thoughtful and thought provoking addition is a rusting cement mixer. Is this another of Rusty’s wink to the laws of physics? The great mix? Eternal spinning of countless galactic particles?
Whatever one thinks of Rusty’s work, his genius for mashing large metal objects is awe-inspiring. I imagine him manipulating some great mechanical maw that chews up whole cars and spits them out on the roadside. He is shouting “This is art! This is art!” Is it? Well, how else can he justify what he’s doing? Whatever, with this particular roadside wreckage, he has assured the enduring enigma of his oeuvre.
Of an evening, as the northern sun settles, I am sure Rusty feels satisfied with his day’s work. I see his smug smile as he pours himself two fingers of his favourite tipple. Surely, the same two fingers that he waves at anyone – resident, tourist or environmentalist – bold enough to comment. Whatever emotions provoked by Rusty’s work, this whole gig just makes me angry. So there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
Another crocodile! This one has lichen on it. It must be older. It’s mouth is open.
A giant python with forked stick-tongue. It’s almost smiling. It looks like it has been here for years.
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?
Remember the story of the decaying ties in New Zealand? I left three specimens of executive neckwear exposed in a Manuka stand by a little known creek in 2009. This is how they started.
It was fun visiting them over the years. A friend (thanks, Anna) sent me a photo of them now. They’re just about hanging’ in there; they seem about to merge completely with the natural world. Take a look at them now.