Terence Blacker: Count me out of the white horse fan club

Share
Related Topics

It is a wonderful joke. It is folk art, like maypoles and cheese-rolling. It is a celebration of our history. It fuses the art of Magritte with that of the great 18th century painter George Stubbs. It is a patriotic symbol, which will remind those who arrive in Britain aboard the Eurostar of this island's glorious past.

This much must be conceded to Mark Wallinger's "Horse", the 160ft structure which has just been awarded £2m of public money. It has provoked reactions – all of those in my first paragraph are from respectable newspapers – every bit as faddish and ill thought-out as the project itself. "In a New Labour age when Britain's history and heritage is [sic] so derided, how refreshing it is to see that Wallinger is celebrating both with this public monument," Sir Roy Strong has written in a moment of sublime silliness.

My confident prediction is that, if this concrete and fibreglass construction is built and stays up for any length of time – and it would be a foolish gambler to place money on that – it will come to represent not heritage or history but the sort of lazy, metropolitan thinking which has settled on early 21st century Britain like grey slush.

Public art can be noble and uplifting: Anthony Gormley's "Angel of the North" is a feat of engineering and creativity which celebrates, on an appropriate scale and in the right medium, the great industrial past of the north of England. "Horse", a rather obvious gesture of me-tooism by the south, may indeed be a joke but it is one which mocks not only the public but also any art which dares to be figurative and interpretive rather than conceptual.

The £2m commission seems to have been granted on the basis of a photomontage, a photograph of a large horse placed on a small landscape, and a plastic model not dissimilar to a My Little Pony toy.

The very naffness of the design is apparently wittily self-conscious. Here is a fan of the project, Mark Hudson, writing in The Daily Telegraph. "What we actually have is a generic, static image taken from a child's farmyard set.... Where once modern art was an in-joke shared only by a tiny cognoscenti, now we're all in on it."

Yet the joke makes serious claims for itself. According to Wallinger, the horse is a symbol of import-export and immigration. "It has a bridle on it to suggest we had some kind of input." This explanation feels tacked on, fraudulent – and not only because the horse is not in fact wearing a bridle at all, but a head-collar. So much for attention to detail.

Mix heritage and history and you get horse; then make it very, very big. That is the concept behind this work of conceptual art. It represents a view of landscape as seen from the bar of the Groucho Club. In reality, the beauty of the English countryside (and, indeed, the beauty of a horse) is created by proportion and balance. Wallinger's structure, which will be seen for miles, is a living mockery of that idea.

Great practical jokes have been played on the public by dangerous, funny outsiders, from Spike Milligan to Chris Morris. But "Horse" reveals the rather less amusing prospect of the Establishment playing an in-joke on itself, and with public money. In the event that it does actually go up and stay up, the fibreglass and concrete horse may indeed be seen as a symbol of Britain for those entering the country. It is what it symbolises which is worrying.

Some dodgy adults need to grow up

Stories of adults behaving oddly towards children are not hard to find. The octo-mum Nadya Suleman, who loves children so much she has just had eight more to add to her first six, has set up a website on which she asks for donations. An Episcopalian minister has posed his two sons on the chimney of his two-storey house to get a good photo for the School Book Week.

Riding high in the list of dodgy adults must be the people at Channel 4 who are responsible for the new reality show Boys and Girls Alone. The set-up is simple: isolate two groups of children from adults, and let the cameras roll. If there is not enough unhappiness, give the two groups of children £400 each. If one girl is found to be upset about her parents' divorce, film a tearful meeting with her mother.

Already, of course, there have been rows, tears, gangs and bullying. Why is this is seen to be a responsible way to treat children – even in the sacred name of TV entertainment?

Harmony on Lord Howe Island

Human behaviour on the Galapagos Islands is "a parable of how we treat the natural world", Sir David Attenborough has said. He might have mentioned that another island grouping, also blessed with rare endemic species and a fragile ecosystem, is already showing how tourism and wildlife can flourish together. On Lord Howe Island, 370 miles off eastern Australian, tourists are limited to 400 at one time and full-time residents to 320. There are no big hotels, no large-scale tourist developments – no concession to greed, in fact. The result is a sort of harmony between the human and the natural worlds.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Early Years Teacher - Jan 2015 - China

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Position: Early Years TeacherRequired: J...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Primary Teachers required - Cardiff and the Vale

£95 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: KS1 ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Apple CEO Timothy Cook  

Tim Cook coming out as gay publicly for the first time matters to young men like me

Leigh Dowd
 

Daily catch-up: war on drugs, shocking polls and Balls family news

John Rentoul
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes