The Wallingers that were just too wacky – even for him
New book reveals the avant-garde artist's works that failed to get off drawing board
Rob Sharp is a freelance journalist specialising in arts and culture. He was on staff at The Independent from July 2007 to December 2011, first as a features writer, and then as the paper’s arts correspondent. He has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. For more information visit his website, www.robsharp.com or email him at email@example.com.
Monday 03 October 2011
The residents of Folkestone don't know how close they came to having to live in the shadow of a huge balloon shaped like a human heart, looming over the town centre.
The plans, developed by the Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger, were intended to celebrate the 17th-century Folkestone heart physician William Harvey. Inhabitants of the Kent town would have woken one day three years ago to find the helium-filled structure filling the sky over the seafront. The project was delayed and then did not go ahead, because, Wallinger discovered, Folkestone was "too windy".
The artist, whose plans for a 50m-high stallion in Ebbsfleet, Kent, were thrown into doubt earlier this year after costs reportedly soared to £12m, has a history of wild, unrealised works. A new book published by Thames & Hudson next week, details more than a dozen of Wallinger's unbuilt plans for everything from 10 huge white orbs at Stratford's Olympic Park in east London to the world's tallest flagpole, proposed for South Shields but never built.
"Maybe there's a bigger hunger for public art these days," says Wallinger. "There are more competitions than there used to be. Perhaps artists get approached more. Architects are used to entering lots of competitions. I get disappointed but much of the time it's a difficult ask to keep all the parties happy."
The Folkestone work, called The Anatomy of Melancholy was a proposal for the town's inaugural Triennial. It was due to hang above a statue which depicts Harvey holding out an eviscerated human heart. "I wanted something reminiscent of a child walking out of shop with a helium balloon," writes Wallinger in the book. He adds that "the hot-air solution became impractical, as did the helium alternative".
Earlier this year, Wallinger proposed 10 huge white orbs in Stratford, to mark the "10 gateways to the Olympic Park". The spheres, he says, were ultimately rejected by the Olympic Delivery Authority.
In 1998 Wallinger's proposal for an "extraordinarily long" photograph of the finish of the Epsom Derby to greet passengers boarding the Heathrow Express was vetoed because airport authorities "had difficulty identifying the funding," a phrase which Wallinger says he has "always treasured".
Other unrealised works include a 2004 proposal to place a Mothercare crib outside Trafalgar Square church St Martin-in-the-Fields, and have it protected by three security guards; a 2005 plan to have passengers' passport photographs flash up outside Heathrow Terminal 5 and a 2008 idea to build the world's tallest flagpole in South Shields to mark the end of the Great North Run.
In 2009, he planned to throw $15,000 (£9,626) in small change into the Roaring Fork River in Aspen, Colorado, but was stopped for "environmental reasons".
Wallinger insists that his Ebbsfleet sculpture will go ahead. "We are hopeful it will happen, he said "It was always going to cost a lot of money and we didn't want it to come from the public purse."
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