Friday, 27 February 2009

Of White Horses and Horsesh*t...

I know I'm a bit late coming to this one, but its been bothering me a bit recently.
It seems the authorities have seen fit to commission a 50 metre statue of a white horse (as shown here) to adorn the Kent countryside and the south-eastern approaches to London.
Now, I am a big fan of public art and statues in our public spaces. They can help to anchor our sense of identity, telling the world (and ourselves) who we think we are, where we think we have come from, what we think is important. In this capacity, public art can be hugely beneficial to society at large, but it can also betray our shortcomings, our misconceptions and our folly.
Sadly, this Kentish white horse falls into the latter category.
There are any number of reasons to criticise it. Firstly - like much modern art - it is spectacularly uninspiring; and seems to seek to make up for its lack of any interesting, or inspirational features merely by being gigantic - a preposterous 49 metres high.
Secondly, it is utterly devoid of any content or deeper significance. Various talking heads (including the sculpter no doubt) have waffled on about how central horses are to our culture and that a horse is even the symbol of Kent. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The symbol of Kent is the Invicta - a prancing horse - with all the vitality, strength and vigour that that implies. This sad supine nag, in comparison - appears to be fit for little but the glue factory.
This echoing emptyness at the heart of the project, is - I think - the main problem, and it is this that speaks volumes about modern Britain. This Kentish horse is a bizarre hybrid - the product of arrogance mated with cowardice, bombast married to fear. It is the product of a ruling liberal elite that - like an ancient potentate or megalomaniacal dictator - wants to paint its name in the sky, celebrate itself for all to see. And yet, for all its bold impulses, that same liberal elite does not know what it actually stands for, and is afraid to do anything that might be considered in any way divisive, exclusive or controversial.
So, the end result is that they choose something that is so anodyne, so utterly devoid of any meaning or significance that it cannot possibly offend anyone. Its the application of the 'lowest-common-denominator' to our public art, and its a sad indictment of where we are as a nation. it screams that we have forgotten who we are, forgotten what we stand for and forgotten what is dear to us.
Those visitors and tourists approaching London through the beautiful Kent countryside will, I reckon, not be impressed by the Horse - rather their impression of its significance will probably be similar to the vista that will greet them - a horse's arse.

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