animals in public life

A friend’s blog post mentioning the Lake George zebras made me think of various other animal installations that I have encountered.  (It is  http://weekendwalks.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/friday-1-october-2010-floriade/)    So far I know of the travelling cows that went through various European cities in 2006, and the toads in Hull this year.  I would love to hear of more. 

I am calling them ‘installations’ because they are not quite sculptures: they don’t have that feeling of permanence and marmoreality.  Instead they are engaged with reality in a different way – they address our experience of the animal, and our human myth-making about the animal.  Often, too, they are playful, but not in a naff or whimsical way – once one gets into the kittens-and-puppies-and-pink-bows area, one has left this category far behind.  On the other hand, not everyone has a taste for this kind of art.  The zebras, after all, attracted vandalism of a quite nasty nature, reminiscent of the attacks on horses in Peter Shaffer’s Equus. 

Here are the fibreglass zebras in their original habitat:

Zebras and cloud at Lake George

The toads in Hull were rather different – very much an official civic installation, celebrating Hull’s famous citizen and poet, Philip Larkin. 

Summary toad

Psychedelic toad

There is a marvellously detailed description, with pictures of the toads and their locations, at:

http://tonyshaw3.blogspot.com/2010/08/larkin-with-toads-in-hull-city.html

 But isn’t there something quietly ironic taking place when the Council uses an image from a disgruntled, rebellious and ultimately rather sadly resigned poem?  As so often, only the first two lines are widely known, and they certainly sound strong and angry enough to give any city mayor pause.  Nevertheless, perhaps we should admire their courage –

Toads
Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
  With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
  That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
  They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
  they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
  One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
  When you have both.

——————————————————————————————————

The first time I saw one of these animal installations was in Budapest, in 2006.  There, the city of Pest was dotted with large – full-size, really – statues of cows.  Each one was differently painted and I think some had rather different stances.  They were enchanting and enigmatic, just standing on pavements here and there throughout the city, surprising and challenging interpretation.  It turned out that they were a travelling show – being moved from one city in Europe to another throughout the summer – and so there was also some kind of statement about pan-Europeanism to be found in their presence.  They had a past, and a vagabond-like casualness, that their clean obstinacy of form quite hid. Also, each cow would seem differrent in different locations (or at least I suspect so).  A mad desire to follow them around from country to country swept into my mind.  Alas – impossible – but Pest was amply enough, really.

cow near the Danube 2006

same cow - front view

 

More pictures can be seen at: http://hungary-budapest.blogspot.com/2006/08/budapest-cow-sculpture-cow-parade.html and in looking for those, I’ve just found an explanation of the whole deal.  If you would rather not see a slightly mundane/worthy website, avoid this one, but if you are curious, here it is: http://www.cowparade.com/inc/aboutus.php 

Just to finish off, here is Big Blue – yet another clever, fine piece that causes art and humour to teeter into a complex alignment.  I love the way the smooth curves of the animal blur the sharp almost cruel linearity of the building:

a bear in Denver, USA

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2 Responses to “animals in public life”

  1. valkyrie1 Says:

    This post has made me very happy.

    I copied one of those cows in 2006 for a birthday card – my drawing can be seen on my Flickr account.

    The chap who detailed the Larkin toads also has a page of Cherokee Bears in North Carolina.

    The zebras were so wonderfully placed at Lake George. They were near one of the Federal Highway rest areas beside the (no longer totally empty) lake, with the beautiful wind farm behind them. You can see some turbines in the cloudy photo.

    I will collect you some more animals in Canberra public life as I go along. There are quite a few, especially in Civic. I happened to download a brochure about them yesterday!

  2. valkyrie1 Says:

    PS Thank you for the toads, and for the poem.

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