Illustration by Steve Thomas
Published in ICON, Oct 2012
For those outside London, it’s a play on the “Cycle Superhighway” infrastructure (aka blue painted paths on roads) which happened to exactly match corporate sponsor Barclays’ branding. Our velo citizens are implored not to stand for such nonsense.
Victorian social researcher and reformer Charles Booth’s concerned feelings about my local neighbourhoods of north-east London!
(via Francesco D’Orazio)
Artist Jeremy Deller – whose own joky sculpture for the Cultural Olympiad, Sacrilege, is a bouncy-castle version of Stonehenge – calls the escalating size of public sculpture in Britain an “arms race”.
First Antony Gormley’s 20-metre tall Angel of the North was erected in 1998 in Gateshead. Then, in 2009, the design for Kent’s “angel of the south” – a 50-metre sculpture of a horse by Mark Wallinger – was unveiled. In 2010 came Temenos, Kapoor and Balmond’s series of five sculptures on Teesside, claimed as the “biggest public sculpture in the world”. Later this month, the designs for Richard Wilson’s Slipstream will be revealed. Described as “the longest sculpture in Europe”, it is destined for Heathrow’s new Terminal Two in 2014. But the Orbit towers over them all: “the tallest sculpture in the world”, say its creators. Artist Richard Wentworth, head of sculpture at the Royal College of Art, detects a “comical and awful rivalry” between Gormley and Kapoor as each outsculpts the other. Gormley was, along with Kapoor, shortlisted for the ArcelorMittal project.
"It is," says Deller, "all about people wanting to brand places and regions." Everyone has wanted to repeat the success of the Angel of the North, which has become a symbol of the region and a beloved landmark. But for the “wow” factor to succeed time and again, the only way is up.
By coincidence, or not, the designers of these vast works are all men. Polly Staple, director of the Chisenhale Gallery in nearby Mile End, remarks drily: “I work with a lot of women artists who aren’t interested in working vertically.”
Recall making a presentation in architectural theory class arguing that the verticality of skyscrapers wasn’t simply phallicism but as much about the sublime and, ultimately, the divine. Masters of the Universe and all.
This public art, however… Branding and place-marketing absolutely the dominant drive. Still patriarchal in a roundabout way - names are a kind of power, one that 49% of the population get to hold and the other 51% receive through relationships to men (fathers, husbands).
But the ceaseless drive to differentiate, the need to create difference through plonking multi-million pound lumps of art - rather than recognising any of the things that actually make a place a place: history, people, industry, landscape. What is the artistic drive to produce works like this, and how exactly is it different to making a really good Nike ad?
Even Dr Johnson would tire of modern London, where bigwigs welcome global scumbags and nobody else matters. […]
Say what you will about [London], there really is no place better for watching the gilded parade of international yuckery go by. In the past there was a sense that to get eyeballs on some of the real nasties, one had to travel overseas. But these days Londoners can just sit back and wait, safe in the knowledge that almost every global scumbag, or someone intimately connected to them, will pitch up in the capital sooner or later and find it quite the most accommodating place to spend time.
Marina Hyde may be right about the spinelessness of our government in allowing such a parade of despots to reside here… But part of me - let’s be honest - likes this about London. It makes the city seem like somewhere that still matters, that is still a global hub - it means we’re not Vienna or Prague, small and basically irrelevant.
It polarises the city yes, it makes it filthy and inequal - and, in rubbing up together, Leicester Square / Soho / Mayfair / Belgravia, the mass to the elite all converging on Selfridges… It makes the city now, it makes it emblematic of the global inequalities and borderless flows of wealth and commodities and political influence. It means I am living at the centre of something - and yes, as you see them drink coffee in their Arabic-numberplated cars outside Harvey Nicks or as we passed each other in the halls of the LSE there was a gulf between us that we might never ever wholly destroy…
But to be in the same place, the same time, the visual and cultural contacts and conflicts — the way their Vuitton handbags are an 18-month, £1800-lag on Dalston — multi-millionaires in niqabs — strange Qatari dotcom entrepreneur funding grants for journalistic free communications projects with a party on top of the Gherkin — poor little rich girls buying up the art scene…
It’s a weird and ugly hybrid, dystopic & cyberpunk to its last… But god this is more interesting than homogeneity, than a city full of nice middle-class safe little lives. The super-rich will never emigrate, it doesn’t matter how much we fucking tax them. What matters about London is that we’re not sodding Zurich, not safe and boring Conneticut. London is filthy and rotten and transformative and alive.
This is Wharfhenge. Midwinter sun rise over the modern slabs of finance-capitalism. Oh brave new world that has such places in it.
4500 years ago they brought the sarsen to Salisbury Plain.
But that circle was aligned to the summer solstice.
[Photo by @al_robertson, 22 Dec 2011.]
Maintaining Olympic advertisers’ expensively-purchased monopolies of signification is a legal requirement for host cities. This means new laws:
Section 22 is then about how the police can enter your house to seize your Pepsi t-shirts, news articles or protest banners before you even use them.
Section 19: Advertising Regulations.
(4)The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including, in particular—
(a)advertising of a non-commercial nature, and
(b)announcements or notices of any kind.
(5)The regulations may apply in respect of advertising in any form including, in particular—
(a)the distribution or provision of documents or articles,
(b)the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds, and
(c)things done with or in relation to material which has or may have purposes or uses other than as an advertisement.
Found via @DSG_DSG, 10 Growth Markets for Crisis
What the Shard does do is change the sense of scale in the whole centre of the City. It’s as if a zoom-out button has been pressed, making hefty works like Tate Modern and Tower Bridge look a bit smaller. This is not the first time such a shift has happened: Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House, which now looks petite, once dwarfed its neighbours and buildings such as St Pancras station and Harrods led previous jumps in scale.
The Shard happens to be the biggest yet. It is a visitation from a hyperverse where different dimensions apply and also different orders of money. In this, the Shard resembles One Hyde Park, another creation of the coalition of Livingstone’s politics, Qatari finance and eminent hi-tech architects.
Rowan Moore writing in the Observer on The Shard: a symbol of towering ambition
There’s been a lot of wank lately about the state of architecture criticism - but yet here’s a piece in a major national Sunday paper doing a nice job of connecting design, history and economic forces to explain the transformation of the London skyline. It’s not a groundbreaking article, sure, but it is very much the sort of good baseline of discussion that the field needs.