London has finally delivered some sunshine and just in time too. Not only are we a week from the Games but the city is heaving with things to do and it’s not all about the sport. The value and role of cultural activity is sometimes overlooked in the sustainability world. It is true that many of us have strong geek tendencies and we would much rather discuss the latest innovation in smart materials than wonder at their application in art. But the reality is that how we interact with our surrounds is very strongly influenced by the people we are with, the places that we are in and the permission we feel we are given to explore.
Innovation and curiosity are two founding stones of what makes us and so yesterday I allowed my curiosity to draw me to the London launch of ‘Sacrilege’ a cultural work by Jeremy Deller in the Mayor’s 2012 Cultural programme ‘A Summer Like No Other’. My low-brow tendencies started to twitch as I approached Central Park in Greenwich and it was with huge relief indeed to find that far from being faced with a textured blank canvas or something similar, Sacrilege is in fact an enormous bouncy castle and a life-sized simulacrum of Stone Henge no less!
The power of art to draw people into a fresh relationship with place is one of its most lovely effects. Famously, CowParade, in which mystery cows turned up unannounced in the squares and streets of cities around the globe, reminded us that public art is not always predictable. The way in which people reacted to these marvellous life-sized Cow sculptures was as much part of the art as the sculptures themselves. The same can be said of Luke Jerram’s street pianos ‘Play me I’m yours’, which again, turned up unannounced in public spaces. The question posed immediately to passers by was: ‘what do you want to do: play me, look at me, ignore me, worry about me or destroy me?’ How people negotiated this space – the uncertainty about whether to approach and to play, and whether to collaborate with others who were playing – was a magnificent experiment into what happens when people are given permission to do something new but where the rules are not quite clear.
‘Sacrilege’ brings this invitation-to-act with a fresh twist, pulling on the childlike curiosity that lives in us all. It asks us to physically enjoy the bouncy version of Stone Henge, when the real one is firmly out of reach. It also asks us to consider these great monuments as things to be experienced rather than revered as totems from the past. Finally, it demands that we put aside our inhibitions and get giggly along with everybody else!
By re-appropriating spaces and places normally reserved for far more sombre behaviour we can all feel better connected to our cities and to each other – braver, happier and more generous. The inner geek wants to know the materials used in Sacrilege and the answer is of course PVC. I am reliably informed that putting the ‘bounce’ into the castle requires it to be made of the stuff. Let’s look forward to a day when product engineers can find a more sustainable alternative so that the excitement lives on!