Monday, 7 October 2013


So last week I gave you a taste of Puffer Fish. Was that little morsel a tasty treat, or did it expand and stick in your gullet? Well, you’ll choke on this for sure. The story comes from Yangzhong in in Jiangsu province, China where one of the largest public arts commissions in the world is causing the usual flurry of polarised responses. I say art, but as of this moment, I’ve not been able to find an artists name to attach to it, just that the College of Architecture and Urban Planning School of Shanghai's Tongji University, served as the general contractor, undertaking the entirety of the project from design to construction….some student project eh? First of all the facts: it’s 62 meters tall, 90 metres long and 44 metres wide, it weighs 2,100 tones and was built to mark the opening of a horticultural exhibition. the dear old puffer is decorated with 8,920 bronze plates and multicoloured LED bulbs, which are activated at night. 

The fish is said to cost 70m yuan (£7.1m) and city leaders have applied for a Guinness world record. Ha, big is beautiful eh? 

Local newspaper, Modern Express suggested that the construction process was ‘tainted by corruption – by comparing estimates by construction experts, it found that the statue's raw materials should have cost 10m yuan. "As for what constitutes the other 60m yuan in expenditures, this journalist fails to understand," it said. President Xi Jinping has launched a nationwide crackdown on ostentatious displays of money, which, by highlighting the country's extreme wealth gap, are widely considered a latent trigger of social unrest.’

Last year I wrote a modest response to Olympic histrionics for ixia, Fur Coat and No Knickers. In it, I mentioned the fragile economic state of Spain and specifically Castellon Regional Airport’s sculpture by Juan Ripoll├ęs. This €300,000, 24m-high, 20-tone copper statue, dedicated to infamous and allegedly corrupt politician, Carlos Fabra whose gurning, patinated face, welcomes people to the regions brand-new airport, which few people use, in a country teetering on the brink of recession and with the highest unemployment rates in 18 years: surely this is public art at its most banal and most irrelevant? This near totalitarian approach to public art, typified by self-interest and ego, is of course typified in architecture too. We had the Twin-Towers, we still have the Burj Khalifa and now we’ve we’ve got the Shard too - all thrusting their way into the future like some rank Marinetti ejaculate. big, BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST! 

Thank goodness for the modest small-scale inspirational: the small but perfectly formed Maggies Centers, the street artists, the buskers and the hobbyists - the intimate engagement of the poet, striking a chord when you’re at rock-bottom - and those artists who work with people in settings a million miles away from cathedrals of culture.

I notice that Turnip Prize winning artist, Mark Wallinger unveiled a small-scale version of  The White Horse recently. This will sit outside the British Council’s headquarters for two years before going on international tour. This is a diddy version of his vision for The Ebbsfleet Landmark Project, dubbed by some, the “angel of the south,” its a horse as big as the Statue of Liberty. The costs are believed to be between £12m and £15m. Of course the money promised for the project in 2008 had dried up from its private backers in the wake of the financial crisis.

Just what is the cultural value of these giant monoliths? I know they look brilliant when you see them for the first time, but you’ll need something bigger next time to feed your habit and get your next fix. And how will the ONS measure their impact on people, other than the Viv Nicholson effect? I imagine armies of researchers clutching their questionnaires asking people visiting the beasts, if they feel more inclined to go out and get a job (what job?); if they feel less inclined to self harm and if they just have that lovely warm sculptural-induced euphoria…go on, whip out your own personal hedonometer and check you feel the correct prescribed responses. Or failing that, consume your prescription pills, knock back your cheap booze, down your super-size bargain-bucket and top-up your credit. How did Irvine Welsh put it? (sorry about the clumsy censorship)

“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f****** big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of f****** fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f*** you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f****** junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f****** up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life…”

I have a vague unease, that when we anthropods have seen our time through on this little green world, all that will be left will be the traces of giant architectural and artistsic ego - skeletal - but held together by some permanent toxic gunk.

A million miles form Jiangsu province, the northern seaside town of Morecambe celebrates its highest-profile export, through the cultural beatification of comedian Eric Morecambe. Its modest and ugly statue to him, attracts flocks of tourists to pose with their comedy icon, and its claimed, brings much needed revenue to the town. Like a whittled down little version of the Angel of the North in Gateshead, at least this little sculpture has a place in peoples consciousness. Morecambe means something to a few generations of television watchers (and music hall devotees, if you’re still holding on) and the Angel - well there’s a story there steeped in industrial decline and regeneration.

This week, I’m proud to be working in Lithuania and blogging from the beautiful heart of Kaunas. I’m working with friends and colleagues from Socialiniai Meno Projektai on the first artists training programme. This is a real partnership and it builds on the Pathways into Arts and Health training that I’ve delivered over the last few years. It's very hands on and simply builds on the participants skills and desire to work in new ways. This first introductory training will all be based on, and around oncology, and I very much hope will result in some commissioned work for participants. I'll report back on this in full, very soon.

Art for Alder Hey in the Park: Quiet and Reflective Space
Art for Alder Hey in the Park is seeking an artist (or artists’ group) who will consult with staff, parents and children and young people as part of the process to design and make a work of art, and/or series of smaller pieces, for the new Quiet and Reflective Space in the new Hospital. This room will be used by people who have a religious faith, as well as those who do not.
No religious iconography is acceptable, but the art may reflect the environmental/nature theme of the overall programme. 

Art for Alder Hey in the Park: Bereavement Garden
Art for Alder Hey in the Park is seeking an artist (or artists’ group) who will work with the parents and siblings bereavement group, and landscape designer, to design and make a work of art, and/or series of works, for the new Bereavement Garden in the new Hospital. This Bereavement Garden is adjacent to the mortuary and is a space for families who have only just been bereaved and come from the mortuary and counselling rooms.

The Edge Fund Re-Opens for Applications 
The Edge Fund, which was initiated by a small group of philanthropists and activists in early 2012, has announced that that its third funding round is now open for applications. The aim of the fund is to support communities, campaign groups and activists struggling for social, economic and environmental justice. Groups facing discrimination and injustice because of their class, ability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other factors can apply for grants of up to £5,000 to challenge injustices and create just and healthy communities. To apply, the Edge Fund requires a two page application (max) describing who you are, your group’s annual income, what you do and how you fit the Fund’s guidelines. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 14th October 2013, after which shortlisted applicants will need to provide more details via written, audio or video applications. Read more at

Grants to Help New, Innovative Visual Arts Projects 
The Elephant Trust has announced that the next deadline for applications is the 13th January 2014. The Trust offers grants to artists and for new, innovative visual arts projects based in the UK. The Trust's aim is to make it possible for artists and those presenting their work to undertake and complete projects when confronted by lack of funds. The Trust supports projects that develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the fine arts. Priority is now being given to artists and small organisations and galleries who should submit well argued, imaginative proposals for making or producing new work or exhibitions. Arts Festivals are not supported. The Trust normally awards grants of up to £2,000, but larger grants may be considered. Read more at 

Symposium: Sustaining Professional Music in Healthcare Settings Practice 
10am - 4pm, Monday 25th November 2013 
The Education Centre, Royal Derby Hospital, Derby, UK 
OPUS Music CIC, in association with Air Arts to Aid Wellbeing and the Royal Derby Hospital presents a one-day symposium to share, discuss and debate on the topic of Sustaining Professional Music in Healthcare Settings Practice. 
Bringing together key stakeholders including musicians, healthcare professionals, academics and other partners involved in the development of music (and arts) in healthcare settings practice from across the UK and beyond, this symposium will support the generation and sharing of increased understanding, knowledge and ideas required to sustain this practice. The symposium is open to all with an interest in this practice (subject to capacity). 
A charge of £10 per delegate will be made towards the costs of running the symposium. For more information, please contact Nick Cutts, Director, OPUS Music CIC 

World Mental Health Day
An exhibition of artwork by service users at Birch Hill Hospital. Thought-provoking artwork which explores experiences of mental illness and the care system, whilst challenging some of the misconceptions around mental health. Produced in collaboration with art therapists, artists, designers, photographers and ceramicists, and presented by Pennine Care NHS Trust. More details by clicking on the image above.

...and lest we forget what a beautiful place this earth is, here is a photograph of the Faroe Islands to remind us. Thanks as ever and green, is the warmest colour...C.P.

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