THERE’S A LOT OF HOT AIR rising recently around statues: which ones should be pulled down and which left standing, the whys and the wherefores.
All very interesting but, to my mind, missing the main point, which is that for most people most statues are irrelevant. They are ignored.
Ask yourself when you last paused to look at any of the statues where you live. They seem to belong to a forgotten age of pomposity. Almost all are of males, usually adopting a ridiculously heroic pose: chest puffed out, head up, staring into the future, one hand clutching a lapel, maybe a scroll in the other.
Or they’re military heroes sat astride a horse, possibly pointing the route to victory. Usually they are raised on a plinth as if to affirm their sense of superiority over us common folk.
Look at Nelson on his London column; or Earl Grey towering over Newcastle. . . you can’t! Their statues are elevated on such ridiculously high columns that for all we know they may be exposing their genitals or one arm may have fallen off ten years ago. Who could tell?
What virtually all these statues have in common is a total lack of humour or, indeed, much sense of humanity. Slightly more egalitarian is the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, home to a multitude of different creations, regularly changed.
Modern statues can be more interesting than their fusty predecessors, though the line between statue and sculpture now appears to have blurred, although most often statues are of actual people while most sculptures are not.
The metal figures opposite Newcastle’s Central Station are normal common folk, though not identified as ‘real’ people. They are at pavement level so you can chat to them quite happily. You can even tickle them, though so far I’ve failed to raise a laugh from any of them.
Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North belongs firmly within the sculpture department. This piece is also elevated but, unlike Nelson or Earl Grey, its scale is commensurate with its height. The Angel is borne of Gormley’s imagination yet infinitely more capable of inspiring us and talking to us than all those silly old fools up there on their plinths.
Sometimes the line is blurred. In Cuba you can sit on a park bench also occupied by John Lennon. Is this a statue or a sculpture?
Up on the north-east coast in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea a commonplace man and a woman stand on a plinth out at sea staring away to the horizon. An interesting idea, but they still feel as remote as all those traditional statues.
I once suggested that North Tyneside Council should sell local lottery tickets with a monthly winner selected as the latest addition to a People’s Sculpture Park which would slowly grow, a random selection of statues, a sample of the region’s good, the bad and the ugly, though none of them famous. For some inexplicable reason the council declined to take up the offer.
Probably the most iconic statue of recent times was that of Saddam Hussein, brought down to earth (literally) by the common will of the Iraqi people. More people paid attention to that statue once it was lying on its back than they ever had when it stood upright.
Maybe that should be the fate of all those statues of the great and the good which we are expected to revere; we DON’T revere them and the chances are at some future date they’ll be discredited anyway, so why not get it over with right away? Let’s just topple the lot, Saddam-style.
Altogether now – H-E-A-V-E!!