Eccentric England: The Headington Shark

Headington Shark
Henry Flower

Once again, I’m back in Oxford for my annual summer working holiday. I love this place. This quintessentially English city offers beautiful colleges, the world’s coolest museum, even the chance to bump into the Queen.

But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.

The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.

Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.

Celebrating Chinese New Year In Estonia

Estonia
When you think of Chinese New Year, the snowy capital of Estonia isn’t the first place you think of for celebrating it. Yet Tallinn put on a big show to greet the new year as part of their annual Fire and Ice Festival.

The Chinese community in Tallinn is pretty small, but the Chinese embassy is reaching out to this Baltic state and helped fund a grandiose program of entertainment to welcome in the Year of the Snake. A big stage in Tallinn’s Kadriorg Park had Chinese acrobats, dancers, and musicians doing their stuff.

The Estonians also took part in their own way. A group of Estonian sculptors, plus an Egyptian guest, did a set of five ice sculptures for the theme of the New Year. The artists were Tiiu Kirsipuu, Aime Kuulbusch, Kalle Pruuden and Elo Liiv from Estonia, and Salah Hammad from Egypt. Their works are based on the Eastern Lunar calendar, the central sculpture being the Black Water Snake of this new year. Flanking it were sculptures representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

A huge crowd came out to watch the unveiling. The night was a mild one by Estonian standards, dipping down to about 0 Celsius (about 20 degrees Fahrenheit) with a steady snowfall. Last year it was -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit). I’m glad I came this year and not last.

%Gallery-178530%Tiiu Kirsipuu, who sculpted the snake, told me that the ice came all the way from Lapland in northern Finland. Tiiu explained that the ice needs to be at least 40 centimeters thick and that Estonia is too far south to generally get ice freezing to that thickness.

I also talked with Salah Hammad, the visiting Egyptian artist. His usual works are comprised of stone, wood and metal formed into an abstract geometric style. This was Salah’s first time working with ice and he found it a tricky medium to control. Here he is next to his work below.

Once the sculptures were unveiled, the crowd pressed in to see them. Everybody felt the urge to stroke the figures. The festival organizers and artists didn’t seem to mind. I wondered aloud how long the figures would hold up to such treatment. One of the artists simply shrugged and said that impermanence was part of the medium.

As it grew later the mercury began to drop. The Estonians didn’t care. Living where they do they’ve made their peace with winter. Scattered all across the park were hundreds of snowmen, snowbears, snowdwarves and snowdragons. Eager kids were busily adding to the population. Snowball fights broke out everywhere. Parents warmed themselves at stalls selling mulled wine and everybody was wowed by the fireworks show the Chinese put on.

Just as it was really starting to get chilly, I managed to get invited to a reception at the Chinese embassy. Chinese cultural representatives told me how anxious they were to get their nation’s traditions better known in the West. Considering how much money they’d spent on a city of a little more than 300,000 people, I imagine they’re pretty serious. Expect more Chinese shows in your town soon.

Everyone felt the show had come off well and was in a good mood. Estonian artists, Chinese dancers, a Portuguese photographer, and a lone Canadian and Egyptian all mingled and enjoyed Chinese food and Spanish wine. Cultures and languages blended with ease.

I love this new international world!

This is the first in a new series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town!

[All photos by Sean McLachlan]

Estonia

Martin Luther King Memorial Inscription To Be Modified

Martin Luther King Memorial
The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., was unveiled on August 28, 2011. It has since proved hugely popular, with an estimated 1.5 to 2 million visitors in its first year. It has also proved controversial.

As Art Daily reports, several public figures complained about an inscription on the memorial that reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The inscription is not in quotes because it’s actually a paraphrase of what King said. His actual words were, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Leading poet Maya Angelou told the Washington Post that the paraphrase makes King look like “an arrogant twit.” She went on to say that the civil rights leader was anything but arrogant and the paraphrase “minimizes the man.”

Now the full quote will be included. In September or October, after the summer tourist rush is over, two sculptors will change the quote.

The statue’s other inscription hasn’t caused any controversy. It reads, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Remembering the fallen

remembering the fallen
Today is Veterans Day, also known as Remembrance Day and Armistice Day because in 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, World War One ended.

For four years the nations of the world had torn each other apart. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, the Ottoman Empire was mortally wounded, Germany’s Kaiser’s fell and so did Russia’s Czar. The world changed forever and 20 million people were dead.

There are countless monuments honoring those killed. The most powerful, I think, is this one. It’s called The Grieving Parents and was erected in 1932 by Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist. Kollwitz’s youngest son Peter was killed while serving in the German army. The monument is in the cemetery at Vladslo, Belgium, where he’s buried. The faces of the parents are those of Käthe and her husband. Her husband looks at Peter’s grave while Käthe bends over in grief. So many young men are buried in this cemetery that Peter’s name shares a tombstone with nineteen others.

Whether you’re on the road or staying at home today, there’s probably a war memorial near you where people are remembering the fallen. Take a moment to visit it, even if it’s for the “other side.” After all this time that doesn’t really matter.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Three art fairs in Madrid this month

Madrid, madrid, Spain, spain, art,Madrid has always been a favorite destination for art lovers, and in February you have three more reasons to go. Later this month the Spanish capital will host three contemporary art fairs.

Art Madrid is the biggest, with 45,000 visitors last year. Now in its sixth year, Art Madrid is hosting 89 exhibition spaces that will showcase the collections of 60 art galleries from across Spain and around the world. It’s open from Feb. 16-20.

ARCOmadrid is celebrating its 30th year by focusing on Russian and Latin American contemporary art. Pieces from 12 Russian galleries will be on display and a “Solo Projects” program features artists from Latin America. It’s open Feb. 18-20.

JUSTMAD2 is the youngster of the crowd and only in its second year. About 50 exhibitors from many different countries will be showing their stuff. There will also be special programs on experimental design and sound art. It’s open Feb. 18-20.

It’s no coincidence that these are all happening at the same time. Buyers from all over the world will be here looking for The Next Great Talent, and like book fairs or other trade shows there will be a lot of hustling going on. Visiting one of these fairs will not only give you a large, interesting art exhibition for your money, but also insights into the inner workings of the art world.