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Shooting over 60 sculptures in a day for our Sculptures of London project is exhausting work – as both Tom Maine and I can testify. And yet this is what we achieved on Sunday 11 June 2017 – before immediately heading on to rehearsals for our forthcoming fiction film, This is Cinema.

In some senses, the day constitutes a sort of miniature version of the story told by the sculptures of London in general: it was defined by a large number of statues of figures, many monuments associated with war, and yet it also involved a series of abstract sculptures, and many of which invite interaction from passers-by.

Two works by John Maine perhaps summed up both of these strands of London sculpture: his ring-like war memorial on Islington Green and his Arena on the South Bank.

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Islington Memorial by John Maine

The war memorial suggests war, but not in a celebratory or heroic way – with a phallic statue. Instead, the ring that is the memorial’s centrepiece suggests something much more subtle, its twists suggesting pain as it resembles a wreath, while at the same time having a weight and beauty of its own. What is more, the way in which the ring becomes something like a Möbius strip also suggests the infinity, perhaps, of memory.

But where the Islington Memorial remains a monument that one looks at, Arena, on the other hand, is a piece that invites people to walk and to climb, maybe even to skateboard over. Set outside the National Theatre, it is a key feature of London’s South Bank, and it presents the kind of democratic and equalising vision of the city that we might think is fitting in the venue of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

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Arena by John Maine

Rather than being a ‘monumental’ sculpture, then, Arena perhaps even stops being a sculpture at all. Maybe it is better considered to be landscape design or just masonry. But even in challenging the border of sculpture, Arena reaffirms what art can do best, which is precisely to challenge borders, and to get us to rethink space and how we act in and with it in a city that otherwise is often defined by barriers and fences.

In some senses, then, London is on the one hand defined by statues, most often of men, whose lives are associated with a history of nation-building and/or national defence, i.e. war, and which stand on plinths that assert power and which do not let us touch or even approach the figure. And on the other hand, London has very approachable sculptures with which we can even interact.

Indeed, they ask us to touch them, as signalled in Lorenzo Quinn’s Hands, found on Millbank opposite the MI6 building and near Tate Britain.

If the statues are typically of men, it is also true that they are predominantly of white men. There are exceptions: in Parliament Square in Westminster there are statues of both Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – but here, too, it is perhaps significant that these two men, known for their democratic values and their bid to create a society of equals, are much closer to the ground than the men who surround them, including Robert Peel (the founder of the police), Benjamin Disraeli and former South African leader Jan Smuts.

These latter figures enjoy much grander plinths than Mandela and Gandhi – with the contrast between Mandela and Smuts (who endorsed racial segregation in South Africa, even if apartheid only came into being after his term) being perhaps especially telling.

(My aim here is not to belittle Smuts unnecessarily; his achievements are numerous, and he might be considered a great liberal, even if he also had disagreements with Gandhi.)

If there is a seeming correspondence between plinth size and race, then there seemed to be a tendency on this day of filming to find it hard to film sculptures of women. We did find and shoot the sculptures of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens and Edith Cavell at 10 St Martin’s Place, a fiery Boudica, as well as the bust of SOE officer Violette Szabo on Lambeth Palace Road.

But we also found that we could not film statues of Elizabeth I (because Little Dean’s Yard is in Westminster School and thus private), Mary Seacole (because one cannot film on the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital without a permit), and Anna Pavlova (because the Victoria Palace Theatre upon which she lives was under scaffold).

Beyond that, the Women in World War II Memorial on Whitehall, together with the Suffragette Memorial in Christchurch Gardens do not actually feature any women, but instead seem to reference them through their absence.

There were plenty of sculptures, however, of animals, including men riding horses, lions at the feet of men, sphinxes at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle, a lioness hunting a lesser kudu, and a heron in a pond in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

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Jonathan Kenworthy’s Lioness and Lesser Kudu

(Queen Victoria herself looms large in London, but while there are various statues of her, significantly more things are named after her: Victoria Tower, Victoria Embankment, and so on.)

Finally, Oscar Wilde does not stand, nor even sit, but lies, almost as if in a coffin, by Charing Cross on Adelaide Street. It seems ironic that in contrast to the phallic Nelson whose column stands around the corner in Trafalgar Square, here we have a queer icon not pushing himself upwards, but lying in the gutter, looking at the stars.

Somewhere between monument and abstraction, Maggi Hambling’s sculpture also seems to embody the tension between the city’s imposition of hierarchies of power and its democratic impulses; it is a working embodiment of the story that is told us by the sculptures of London.

With one day left for filming, and half a day required to do the film’s voice over with brilliant actress Lissa Schwerm, sculptures of London is shaping up nicely. We shall wrap up with our final diary entry in the next few days…

Tom and I went out on 8 June 2017 – the day of the UK General Election – in order to do our fifth day of shooting sculptures.

Perhaps appropriately, we started at Highgate Cemetery, where we took a portrait of Karl Marx, which also made an appearance in our film, The New Hope.

We then headed over to Golders Hill Park to see Patricia Finch’s Golders Hill Girl, and on to the Swiss Cottage area to see Sigmund Freud.

After finding a sculpture the name of which we do not know by Swiss Cottage Library, we took a quick bus over to Camden Stables, where we found the Amy Winehouse statue, before walking to the Regent’s Park, where we took shots of the Matilda fountain and two works by Albert Hodge, The Lost Bow and A Mighty Hunter, which both feature cherubs attacking birds.

 

We also found an eagle near the Island Rock Garden, although alas could not afford the entry fee to shoot Henri Teixeira de Mattos’ Stealing the Cubs.

Over to Rossmore Street we wandered to see Charles Hadcock’s Echo, before then finding Barbara Hepworth’s Heron on the side of Heron House on George Street and some of the more traditional statues on Portland Place.

 

Naomi Blake’s View – which lives in Fitzroy Square Garden – was perhaps my favourite sculpture of the day: a beautiful piece in and of itself, it is not dissimilar to Hepworth’s Single Form in Battersea Park, which we shot on day three. Nonetheless, View seems to invite both touch through its smoothness as well as interaction as one not only looks at it, but also through it and to what lies beyond.

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Naomi Blake’s View

Inside St Pancras, we then filmed Martin Benning’s statue of Sir John Betjeman (who features in St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies) and Paul Day’s The Meeting Place, well known to Eurostar travellers as the two lovers who greet people as they arrive in London.

 

Over the British Library, where we took in Eduardo Paolozzi’s Newton, before we then stumbled across some massive sculptures – from what we could tell unnamed – in front of the St Pancras Parish Church. These figures with melded and buried heads really were surprising: monsters merging with each other and with Earth, like fallen gods wandering lost in the land of the humans.

 

We then wandered down to Tavistock Square and Gordon Square, where respectively we filmed statues of Mohandas K Gandhi and Virginia Woolf, and Rabindranath Tagore and Noor Inayat Khan.

 

By the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), we filmed the Armillary Sphere sundial in Torrington Square and the Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. Supposedly restored in 2016, this latter statue nonetheless already seemed somewhat worn as his forehead and cheeks have suffered chips and cracks.

 

Nonetheless, I was touched by the quotation from Thiruvalluvar that features on a plaque at the foot of the statue:

You meet with joy, with pleasant thought you part;
Such is the learned scholar’s wondrous art

I cannot lay claim to realising the learnèd scholar’s wondrous art – but I endeavour to meet with joy as and when I can.

There followed a shot of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford in Russell Square – a huge monument on a large raised plinth, with Russell looming over various sculpted animals, while metal railings preventing interaction all interaction with Russell except on the part of the birds that sit and defecate upon him.

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Francis Russell with pigeon on head

The day ended with another Patricia Finch sculpture in Queen Square, this one being her Memorial to Andrew Meller, who worked with the Great Ormond Street Hospital – before we got in a quick shot of Sam the Cat, who also lives in the corner of that square.

 

Hopefully only two more days to go and then we can move on to the editing stage of the film – with actress Lissa Schwerm hopefully to deliver the film’s vocal track in the next week or so, too.

As we near completion of our crowd funding campaign for This is Cinema with LiveTree, shooting continues with Sculptures of London, a short film that asks what the story is that the sculptures of London tell us – about the city and about life more generally.

William Brown and Tom Maine spent Monday 29 May shooting some more sculptures for the film – after a brief meeting with the organisers of the East End Film Festival ahead of the screening of Circle/Line with them on Saturday 3 June at 5pm at Old Spitalfields Market.

We started at Mile End, where we shot the statue of Catherine Booth, co-founder with her husband William of the Salvation Army.

Catherine and William Booth

Catherine’s hand is held low, William’s held high; where Catherine reads, William declaims; where William is made of bronze, Catherine is made of fibreglass.

We then proceeded to Three Mills Park, where we saw Thomas J Price’s Network, before heading down to Docklands to shoot Les Johnson’s Landed and Eduardo Paolozzi’s Vulcan.

A quick trip down to the Woolwich Arsenal allowed us to take in Assembly by Peter Burke and Nike by Pavlos Angelos Kougioumtzis.

And we ended the afternoon’s shoot with a quick trip to Canary Wharf via East India, where we filmed Maurice Bilk’s Renaissance, Kim Bennet’s Domino Players, Eilis O’Connell’s Sacrificial Anode, Richard Rome’s Pepper Rock, Giles Penny’s Two Men on a Bench, Jon Buck’s Returning to Embrace, Lynn Chadwick’s Couple on a Seat and Bob Allen’s It Takes Two. The last four in particular suggest a strong theme between couples of Canary Wharf…

We might be hard pressed to film all of the sculptures that we would like between now and the end of the shoot, but we are making gradual and definite progress!