Philip Hensher: Britain, 2008... it's our statues that will tell all

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The Independent Online

As artistic projects go, this one falls squarely into the category of the bizarre. Does it really need to be made? Perhaps the mere proposal, in an age of the conceptual, is enough to constitute a work of art. Anyway, after the Angel of the North and the proposed Giant White Horse for Kent, this one might have been foreseen. Be afraid: here comes the Colossal Naomi Campbell.

The photographer Nick Knight has been taking a series of images of the model, or supermodel as we are contractually obliged to term her. He is proposing, with what seriousness is hard to determine, that these photographs will somehow be run through three-dimensional scanners, and the results transformed into sculptural materials. What materials exactly? Mr Knight hasn't quite decided, though it might be glass fibre or possibly alabaster.

When this fab hi-tech process is completed, what we will be left with is a statue of Ms Campbell 30 feet high. In the standard units of Newspaper Measurement – Wales, football pitches, and so on – you will be interested to know that this is twice the height of a double decker bus. What anyone will do with it is not entirely clear, but Mr Knight is determined to go through with the project.

It isn't the first occasion that a "supermodel" has been immortalised in this way. Last year, a huge and rather terrifying cast of Kate Moss doing a very difficult yoga position was placed at the end of the long lake at Chats-worth. Marc Quinn, that distinguished Young British Artist, was responsible on that occasion.

Perhaps falling into the same category, when the National Portrait Gallery mounted an exhibition of pretty vacuous portraits by Mario Testino, centring around "supermodel" portraits, he saw nothing particularly strange in blowing up these famous faces to colossal proportions. The monumental, these days, goes hand in hand with mere celebrity.

Statues, I feel, are a more striking indicator of what a society thinks genuinely important than almost anything else. After all, they are made to last, and a society which makes them must think that subsequent ages will examine these conscious legacies. They hang around as buildings do. Books, images, and most other legacies of a society can be ignored; statues represent a more or less deliberate statement of what is truly important about a culture, made by that culture to its descendants.

Where the Victorians had imperial adventurers, and the Edwardians exponents of military might, we are tempted by giant representations of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Someone is going to write in to say that modelling is terribly hard, that not anyone can go down a catwalk with a miniskirt on, but I think there are people in our society who achieve more, to whom no one is ever going to put up a statue.

There ought to be the suspicion, at least, of a joke in the idea of putting up a 30-foot statue of Naomi Campbell, but if there is one, it can't easily be discerned. And that's not surprising; after all, what we admire most, and most aspire to, are not the generals and the adventurers, the artists and great creators, but those on whom luck has settled.

In any case, the great sculptors seem now to have been made entirely redundant by Mr Knight's processes. With no more than good bones and good skin and the drilled ability to walk from here to there and back again, the "supermodel" is, par excellence, the figure of our times. Of course we're going to put a statue up to her.

We love to see critics putting the boot in

It would be hard to imagine anything more utterly eviscerating than the reviews poor Woody Allen has had for his new film, Cassandra's Dream. Despite a distinguished cast that includes Tom Wilkinson, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, it's been excoriated as "ill-written ... badly directed ... preposterously superficial."

But let's salvage something from the wreckage. If, as seems more than likely, there's no pleasure to be got out of the experience of watching Cassandra's Dream, there's abundant enjoyment to be had from the reviews themselves.

It's not exactly schadenfreude; more the pleasure of seeing a bunch of critics who, God knows, usually feel obliged to say something nice about the most awful nonsense, finally free to let loose on a real disaster in the most gloriously unbridled terms.

* I'm at the first of a succession of summer book festivals this weekend, promoting my new novel at Hay. Not having been much of a festival hound as a civilian reader, I was never quite sure of the appeal of them. Actually, as much as hearing an author read a page or two, or give his opinion on some burning issue of the day, I've come to think that the appeal is just gawping at the great and good in person.

Not that the incentive of rubbernecking is limited to the paying public. I had a good old stare at Jimmy Carter and a giant security entourage, making sure not to make any sudden moves. But my real heart-stoppingly nervous moment was caused when the publisher I was chatting to suddenly said, "Oh, the Duchess will be here in a moment," and there, quite abruptly, was the dowager of Devonshire, Debo the Great, in killer aquamarine. I was entirely tongue-tied and overcome. I may never, really, be cool enough for Hay.