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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…

Another session shooting Sculptures of London took place on Tuesday 30 May, as Tom Maine and William Brown ventured around southern London filming various different works.

The day started at the Wetlands Centre in Barnes, where we saw some wildlife sculptures, including Nicola Godden’s portrayal of Sir Peter Scott and what appear to be some geese.

We then headed up to St Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, where we squeezed in a shot of Dickie and Sam, Brian Alabaster’s portrait of his father reading a book to his son, who has Down Syndrome.

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Tom Maine shoots Dickie and Sam.

A brief trip from there to Putney allowed us to follow the Putney Sculpture Trail, which features 9 works by Alan Thornhill.

Thornhill’s works are marked by a wonderful contusion and confusion of bodies, many of which seem to be carrying weights or unidentified infants, and which have the most expressive if bizarrely deformed bodies.

In some senses, Thornhill’s work is unique in London in that he defines the public art landscape of the Putney area, invoking notions of how humans are not separate from each other, but interlinked and intertwined.

It seems fitting, then, that his works are alongside the Thames, the central artery that links London and Londoners alike.

It is further along the Thames at Battersea that we next visited, filming various works in and around Battersea Park. These included John Ravera’s In Town and Catherine Marr-Johnson’s Two Swans on the south side of the river.

Meanwhile, on the north side, we captured images of a naked women in Gilbert Ledward’s Awakening, a clothed man in Leslie Cubitt Bevis’ Sir Thomas More, and a naked woman in Francis Derwent Wood’s Atalanta.

We saw the painter Kenneth Howard at work alongside Atalanta, opposite from the remarkable Boy with a Dolphin by David Wynne.

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Boy with a Dolphin by David Wynne

We then walked into Battersea Park, where of all of the works on offer we opted to shoot Henry Moore’s Three Standing Figures and Barbara Hepworth’s Single Form, the latter of which is an imposing eye (reminiscent of the Open University logo) that really conveys a sense of solidity and gravity – as is fitting for its purpose as a memorial to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld.

From Battersea, Tom and I trekked on to Clapham, Stockwell and Brixton, taking in various works, including Aleix Barbat’s Bronze Woman and the various figures that inhabit the platforms of Brixton’s train station.

By Barbat’s Bronze Woman in Stockwell, we had a brief discussion with a passer-by about sculptures in London: he was very much intrigued by the provenance of this piece, which was made to commemorate the lives of Caribbean women.

A brief stop at Denmark Hill to see Catherine Booth at the headquarters of the Salvation Army was then followed by a look at some of the more monumental works around the O2 Arena in North Greenwich.

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Catherine Booth stands before the Salvation Army headquarters in Denmark Hill

This included capturing shots of Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud, Gary Hume’s Liberty Grip and Alex Chinneck’s Bullet from a Shooting Star.

The day then ended with a trip to the Surrey Quays Farm where we managed – through a closed gate – to get images of our final sculpture of the day, a series of pigs, ducks and a donkey by Jon Bickley.

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Jon Bickley’s pigs and goats

A long and productive day that sees the Beg Steal Borrow team get close to finishing their tour of London’s outlying boroughs, before turning their attention to the public art to be found in the centre of town.

Keep an eye out for further updates!

 

 

 

Our campaign to raise money for This is Cinema may be in full flow – having surpassed the 50 per cent mark, with £1,305 left to raise in 18 days – but there is no rest for the wicked as cinematographer Tom Maine and I headed out on 15 May 2017 to start work on a new short essay-film, Sculptures of London.

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Tom Maine shoots some sculptures in Knightsbridge.

Sculptures of London offers the collective image that the city’s sculptures paint when we put them all alongside each other in a film. What is the story of the city and its people that the the city’s sculptures tell?

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A map showing the locations of all of the different sculptures that we are going to shoot for Sculptures of London.

Having gone through thousands of sculptures in preparing for this film, we have narrowed the film shoot down to images of about 200 different pieces of work – dotted all over London. And so yesterday, we had our first day of filming, starting over in Southall Park, where we shot Rachel Silver’s Sculptural Mosaic Globe.

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Rachel Silver’s Sculptural Mosaic Globe in Southall Park.

We then headed to the Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush area, where, among other things, we were saddened to see the Elliott Brook’s Goaloids had been removed from Shepherds Bush Green. We shall research what has happened to this sculpture!

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George Frederick Watts’ Physical Energy.

We then did a stint in Kensington Gardens, looking in particular at George Frederick Watts’ Physical Energy and Henry Moore’s Arch – two sculptures that already feature prominently in Beg Steal Borrow’s The New Hope (in which Dennis attacks Physical Energy, mistaking it for a rancor).

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Henry Moore’s Arch from across the Serpentine.

We then headed to Sloane Square, where we filmed some of the work in and around Belgrave Square and Cadogan Gardens. In the latter square, David Wynne’s Dancers and Girl with Doves sit in private gardens.

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David Wynne’s Dancers in their private garden.

This begs the question about whether this art is public or not, since one can see it from the public space of the pavement, but one cannot approach it to see it in detail unless one is with a local resident.

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Simon Gudgeon’s Search for Englightenment.

We then got in some shots of Jacob Epstein’s Rush of Green and Simon Gudgeon’s Search for Enlightenment at One Hyde Park, before heading around the park to Still Water by Nic Fiddian-Green, the horse’s head that stands near Marble Arch.

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Still Water by Nic Fiddian-Green.

Finally, we headed to Edgware Road and Paddington, where we got reacquainted with Allan Sly’s Window Cleaner, a sculpture that also features in Circle/Line, which you can see at its premiere at the East End Film Festival on 3 June 2017 at 5pm at Old Spitalfields Market.

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Standing Man and Walking Man by Sean Henry.

We then ended with a trip to see Paddington Bear himself inside the station – but not before going to see Sean Henry’s Standing Man and Walking Man by Sheldon Square.

We were sad to see that Jon Buck’s Family had also been removed. Perhaps the way in which sculptures can go walkabouts will merit another film at a later point in time!

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Paddington!

But we shall keep you updated with this and other projects as we make them. Please do support Beg Steal Borrow’s efforts to make different and strange films…!