Sandy Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to The Queen in Scotland, is not impressed by the six designs on the shortlist for revamping Glasgow's George Square. Here he explains why:
The six designs represent a typically Wet Wet Wet response to the problems of George Square. Such a lot of money for so much nothing.
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You notice how, in every pictorial part of each submission, contemporary types of people are foregrounded; "design-wise" types, as genetically engineered by the Modernist authorities, all smiles and healthy-living.
Not a sicking-up delinquent in sight; no recently bankrupted middle-aged fatso; no begging cripple; no frantic student demented over the loan situation; no art-lover setting himself alight in protest against the barbarism of the current time; no itchy-scratchy man of conscience perplexed at the towering cynicism of the civic authorities.
No, every one a happy clone. These people, if they exist, were first bred by Habitat, then by Ikea. They appear but rarely, and then only when the City of Architecture and Design circus comes to town.
At all other seasons they are nowhere to be found. George Square is being redesigned to accommodate this fantasy – yet when push comes to shove the sorry old precinct will still have to accommodate the likes of us; fairly dog-eared specimens, not given to walk along with anything but a realistic frown upon our raddled coupons, while looking for a bench to sit where we might eat our chips.
The designs that accommodate the statues do so in a manner that effectively corrals them into zones. The word for this is, in fact "ghettos"; this is why I consistently use the German expression "denkmalfrei" when I describe the core aim of the monstrous minds behind this infamy.
The word means "monument-free", and this form was used in the last century for every sort of positively-proposed act of expulsion and annihilation. The idea was to make Germany "frei" of all sort of things and peoples, and the first stages in this evil process involved the concentration of the detested ones in highly unsuitable quarters. (One of the most famous of these, designed by a Bauhaus architect, supplied one toilet for 30,000 women.)
Ghettos, concentration-camps, reservations; they are all half-way-houses to eventual extinction. In this case, of course, we are not certain that the proposals are not pointless anyway, since the thirst to remove the works of statuary is to be quenched quite soon in a technical measure to "secure their safety during the forthcoming works".
We seriously doubt their return, once the authorities have made their Ukraine out of George Square.
Of these statue-retaining schemes, only one seems in any way decorous – but it involves marginalisation to the southern side of the Square, with the Scott column being presented "contre-jour" to stand against the void of Hanover Street like a long, black, drink of water.
This side of the street, so consistently in shadow, will provide a chilly berth for these works, squeezed in on sufferance. There is a ridiculous travesty, in another of the hopeless designs, of Orcagna's Loggia in Florence, where the statues are no-doubt "housed" in a honking shelter made up of an arch and two halves.
Statuary is greatly upon the side of the smoker, of course, and it might be that this proposed tent could become a resort of the more distinguished members of Glasgwegian civic life; a place where they might assemble when it's pissing down to appreciate the forbidden pleasures of tobacco in the company of their similarly marginalised, similarly pacific, brazen compatriots.
A third scheme puts the statues in a circular pen, out of which they dare not put a single foot. This solution imparts a horrible aspect of the "group hug" to the works.
Do these half-witted designers not know that a statue needs, above all, a measure of solitude, just as a man of intellect needs a distance between him and the blockhead to be found at every point of the compass around him?
We see many museums respond to the problem of displaying sculpture in just this way; Stockholm has the busts crammed together in the manner of an "installation" – so that you cannot properly estimate them as works of art – and of course the collection of Chantrey busts held by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is abused in exactly the same way, this time as a "wall" where the unfortunate objects have to accord with the "creative intervention" of some perisher who fancies himself as a talent.
So much for the statue-saving options. Remember that, anyway, the statuary is going.
There is a scheme that proposed what they call a "water-feature". This is not to be a water-feature in the Roman manner, you understand, but a chic and minimal array of squirties through which, presumably, "the children" can sport.
Who the hell these children are, and why we should accomodate them at all, is another question. My understanding was that, children being in a charming but nevertheless decisive way absolutely insane, deserve every encouragement to grow up; that the responsibility of governments and civic authorities was always to show children that the main provision was for the satisfaction of the adult constituency, into which the children have, as their absolute birthright, the right to enter in due course.
But these days we valorise the child to confound the man. But see how the water-feature option will attract the ochlocrats who govern Glasgow today. They like the fountain because it promises movement and spurts so.
They like spurting because it reminds them of the fundamental ejaculation which attended their own conception, and which they believe (being thundering egotists) to have been the greatest emission of matter encountered anywhere in the entire history of Time.
The fountain is a glorification of the Will-to-Live, and as we know from reading Schopenhauer, everything that is life-affirmative is at kernel base, greedy and cruel – where all that denies life is noble, selfless, liable to be crucified or invaded by China.
Architects these days are extraordinarily shape-blind. We are used to the effect of someone being tone-deaf, but few observe how difficult it is for certain people to see things.
This is because, having been through art school, these designers know nothing about form. So it is that one design for George Square (the last on the list) presents a kind of "swirl" as it were designed by that spooky Swiss chocolatier we see on the television at Christmas.
How he looks up at us, with his squeeze-bag. Now, this shape is intended to be in the form of a "helix" – but one rendered flat. The helix is, of course, the circle (the most closed and rested shape) rendered active by the twin mischiefs of time and space.
Here, in this design, we see George Square tattooed with what amounts to a swastika. Who was the dunderhead that allowed this through? Was there nobody in the office with the sense to see it or the guts to speak up?
Personally, my grief for the poor wee swastika knows no end, and I should like to see it eventually wrested from the cold dead hand of Adolf Hitler; in a like fashion he was given the whole of the classical tradition in architecture by the cynical and conniving Modernists of the last century.
But this design – this last design, the last word in awfulness – aims at no such soteriology for the most far-flung, universal and hitherto felicitous symbol known to mankind. It's just a screw-up.
But the statues, remember, are to go anyway. A costly smoke-screen for a covert action is what is put forward now. I wonder if anything can be done.