diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 23, 2024

What is this bolx?

It's one of 11 fibreglass models of heritage items scattered across central London. It's the London Heritage Quarter 'Journey Through Time' Summer Trail and it's bolx. It's been organised not to inspire and delight but to drive footfall to four commercial districts. It kicked off last week and runs all summer. It's lowest common denominator art. It's a lazy attempt at placemaking. And I know it's bolx because I've walked it.
"Step into the London Heritage Quarter this summer for an unforgettable journey through history, art, and celebration! Commemorating the National Gallery’s 200th Birthday, immerse yourself in a world of artistic wonder with special exhibitions, interactive experiences and captivating events showcasing centuries of masterpieces."
Like I said, bolx.

The four responsible Business Improvement Districts are Victoria, Victoria Westminster, Whitehall and The Northbank, all joining together as the London Heritage Quarter in an attempt to grow collective commercial awareness. They do something like this every year - last year it was basketwork animals and in 2022 it was jubilee corgis - all in the hope that misguided innocents will come to explore the trail and end up in a restaurant afterwards. Not for nothing does the trail's official map contains 11 artworks and 59 eateries, the imbalance is entirely deliberate.

The trail starts with this painted teapot near Victoria station.

It's a teapot and it's been painted. I could have done that. Twenty years ago a fibreglass elephant with paint on it was novel and exciting, but then we got giraffes and tigers and Paddington Bears and every kind of themed object so there's nothing original about any of this any more. Apparently the teapot is called 'Pour into Yourself as Well as into Others', or so it says on the label to the side, and that's not the worst of the bolx we'll be reading later.

Object number 2 is a telephone box outside Westminster Cathedral. It takes some skill to make a phone box look less photogenic, but Carlos Penalver's white paint job succeeds.

Also, every sculpture promises an 'AR Experience' accessed by unlocking the QR code alongside. I don't normally do these things but I gave this one a go and it was bolx.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a single black and white photograph floating above the piazza. It's a photo of the Pope going past in his Popemobile in 1982, and I don't think you get anything out of seeing a squinty photo in situ rather than printed or embedded elsewhere. I didn't bother trying the AR experience at any of the other locations.

Object 3 is at the Guards Museum on Birdcage Walk, but it turns out to be inside the Guards Museum and that has an £8 admission charge so stuff that. I skipped this one but only once I'd yomped across Victoria, pointlessly as it turned out.

Number 4 is a crown at the Buckingham Palace end of St James's Park. I had high hopes because last month Time Out said it'd be "a gigantic sculpture of a jewelled crown" but it wasn't. They also promised it'd be "an impressive 1.74m tall and 2.44m wide" but it wasn't that either, it wasn't much taller than a five year old. Always take it with a pinch of salt when a media outlet ejaculates over a press release.

I also read the description of the inspiration behind the crown and it was bolx. People who write about art often write vacuous drivel, and this is some of the most vacuous drivel I've ever read.
"Intended to complement St James's Park, this sculpture is dressed in an array of colours to represent the flora and fauna alongside our urban landscape. The layered and textured colours that make up the crown, an iconic symbol of the United Kingdom, also tell the story of the wonderful mix of culture and values that shape our society. Each individual visiting this sculpture has been on a unique journey, adding the very intricacy to the United Kingdom that this artwork represents."
I don't normally advocate violence, but whoever wrote that should be taken outside and sacked.

My pointless trek continued.

5) A pocket watch outside the QE2 Conference Centre. It sits alongside a leftover corgi from two years ago and that was getting all the attention - the pocket watch rightly none.
6) A multicoloured postbox outside the Supreme Court. Apparently 'the painted colours embody the values of transparency, equity and community engagement", and no, just no, stop the bolx.
7) A pair of wellies alongside the Houses of Parliament. I had to wait my turn here while three ladies with a trail printout took in in turn to photograph themselves in front of it. Poor deluded souls, I thought.
8) A taxi in Trafalgar Square. More artbolx... "The colour palette features red, white and blue - common in world flags - symbolising courage, sacrifice, neutrality, peace, loyalty and freedom'.
9) A top hat in Whitehall Gardens. I'd walked over three miles by this point and wasn't convinced that finding a willow-patterned item of headgear had been worth my while.
10) A teacup in Lower Grosvenor Gardens. Apparently this is a "multifaceted, abstract rendition of the teacup", but it looked like a teacup smeared with paint to me.

After two meandering hours I eventually reached the last sculpture, a double decker bus at Aldwych. It took me over 10 minutes to find it because it wasn't quite where it said it was on the map. Thank heavens that slog's over, I thought, which wasn't quite the "hey let's go to a local eaterie' conclusion the organisers had been hoping for.

Let me say that some of the individual works of art aren't bad, indeed if you stumbled upon them while out doing something else you might well smile and take an interest. What's bolx is the trail aspect, a pointless linkage scattered across an unnecessarily broad area with no thought given to creating a sensible route inbetween. What's bolx is the verbal diarrhoea describing many of the works when shutting up would have been a wiser option. What's bolx is the AR guff added to give context, the floaty photos only semi-visible after a smartphone palaver. But mainly what's bolx is that a business-focused outfit has created a vacuous visitor attraction which you'll only discover is disappointing after you've attempted to follow it, whereas what you really should have done is simply wandered round the West End because it's brilliant.

Next time a commercial entity offers up Painted Fibreglass Orienteering, run a mile.

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