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The bird that never flew ready for take off

KENTIGERN will fly again!

When I say "Kentigern" I mean Concept of Kentigern. And when I say "fly" I mean be carried from A to B. But you get my drift. Concept of Kentigern is the bronze sculpture that used to sit outside yon big department store on Glasgow's Buchanan Street.

Created by Neil Livingstone and installed in 1977, the work related to Glasgow's patron saint - St Mungo, also kent as Kentigern, ken? - who famously or allegedly brought a dead bird back to life.

Foreign readers should note that, just as in the United States where school students swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, Glaswegians - at home and in public squares - put their hands on their hearts every morning and recite: "The fish that never swam, the tree that never grew/The bell that never rang, the bird that never flew."

And that's before a drink. The rhyme refers to symbols on the city's coat-of-arms. And Concept of Kentigern depicts the avian part thereof.

It's right abstract and, as so often with such works, it alarmed the ratepayers. The Herald's picture yesterday showed a horse-mounted rozzer good-naturedly scratching his head in puzzlement at it.

The work has been interpreted by many as looking like the part-mangled tail of a whale. That sometimes happens in art. Locked up in his own vision, the artist doesn't see what everyone else sees.

But look closer, and Concept of K's cetacean forked tail becomes the wings of a bird. I'm just guessing, mind. But at least I'm trying.

Some citizens found C of K very trying and, in 1999, during the renovation of Buchanan Street, it was put into storage. But now it's being taken back oot and will form part of Reclaimed: The Second Life of Sculpture at the Briggait building, Glasgow.

I'm delighted. I like the work's shape and movement, so to speak. Here's the thing: conceptual art, where the idea's more important than the finished article, asks more of us than mere gawping.

Think about it: what's required of you when confronted with a statue of a man in a suit? All you need do is confirm authoritatively to yourself: "That's what-his-name."

I'm not knocking it. I believe there's a place for the lifelike representation of deceased deservers of such fame. And that place is at football grounds, where club legends are regularly displayed thus.

But I also believe significant statesmen deserve realistic hoisting on a plinth. That said, I'm not agin the more difficult stuff either. Alone of all the words in this column, I use "difficult" advisedly. The trouble with conceptual art is that it asks the people to think. Let me tell you something about the people: they do not like to think.

They do not like it up their brain. It's not just art. They don't like elections, referenda or maths. That's why the Yes campaign has its work cut out. It needs people in numbers to think. With typical negativity, No doesn't.

However, I do not wish to wander too far from my plinth to mount a soapbox. My point is that, while all statues are in your face to a degree, the conceptual ones are saying: "What do you think, eh?" Never mind in your face, sometimes it's over your head.

The more representational, human-based efforts tend rather to say: "Hi, remember me? I liberated the slaves/made a fortune from slavery/cleared people off my land/was midwife to devolution/scored a hat-trick in the cup final."

Statues in these cynical times are often subjects of drollery. Donald Dewar's statue, also in Glasgow's Buchanan Street, was termed The Glaikit in the Jaickit. Belfast's Beacon of Hope, featuring a woman holding a ring of thanksgiving, was reduced to The Doll with the Ball (or, worse, The Thing with the Ring).

It's all affectionately meant. That Kentigern is taking wing with his cetacean tail again - it's the whale that never flew - is conceptually symbolic of our fondness for it.

Reclaimed: The Second life of Sculpture, part of this year's Glasgow International festival of modern art, is at The Briggait between April 5 and May 2.

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