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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, January 17, 2003
    Luna, nil - Laser, one
     
    Democracy in action! Liverpool Housing Action Trust (HAT) are commissioning a major artwork for Sefton Park, and this week they have been displaying the five shortlisted proposals at The Palm House, inviting comments from the public which will help determine the outcome.

    So, I spent lunchtime in that wonderful restored glass palace, chatting with the duty HAT man and other curious members of the public about the proposals on view. There are five:
      John AikenÕs marble-lined wall, internally lit and finely polished for maximum effect to passers-by;

      Jim BuckleyÕs cluster of trees illuminated by fibre optics attached to the branches, which move and grow with the life of the tree;

      Olaf NicolaiÕs brightly-painted but otherwise standard Adshel bus shelters - two, for each side of the lake (nowhere near any bus route);

      Elisabeth BalletÕs ÔPalindrome along the park sideÕ, a series of four-foot-high white capital letters along the park boundary spelling out Graham ReynoldsÕ poem ÔHymn to the MoonÕ:
        LUNA, NUL ONE
        MOON, NEMO
        DROWN WORD
        IN MUTUAL AUTUMN
        I GO
        FEEL FOG ROB ALL LIFE
        FILL LABOR
        GO, FLEE FOG
        IN MUTUAL AUTUMN
        I DROWN
        WORD; OMEN; NO OMEN
        O LUNA, NUL;
      ... and Andrew HolmesÕs laser installation, projecting to eight points around the park boundary, the signatures of each of the eight people whose statues stand at each point of the octagonal Palm House. They are explorers, discoverers, classifiers and cultivators of the natural world, some remembered, some long-forgotten: Andre Le Notre, Captain James Cook, Geraldus Mercator, Carolus Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, Christopher Columbus, Prince Henry the Navigator and John Parkinson.
    Which did I plump for as first and last choice? Last ought to have been the feeble bus shelter idea. When asked on his visit how the park authorities could deal with potential vandalism, Nicolai suggested, Òget tigersÓ. I donÕt think heÕs entirely serious. But I knew no one would vote for that, so opted to select the Palindrome last in case any others liked it enough to put it first. A nice idea, but (a) wrong poem - how about a Roger McGough? and (b) totally open to vandalism. (Albeit creative vandalism, perhaps - this being studentland, you can imagine drunken undergraduates ripping up the letters late at night and rearranging them to read, OWEN NIL ROONALDO TEN... for example ...)

    My first choice was Andrew Holmes's laser installation, which is entirely vandal-proof and an artwork which thoroughly connects the visitor to their surroundings and the heritage they carry. Who are these people whose signatures will light up the park approaches? Why are they the ones chosen to decorate the Palm House so proudly? What part have they played in the histories of Liverpool and the wider world? Can we learn from them, celebrate their achievements today? All these questions came to me while looking at the artistÕs plans today, and the HAT man said, have been a main topic of conversation with visitors all week.

    No surprise then, that my two choices were the majority ones among all visitors whoÕve filled in survey forms. Will democracy prevail from here? Please, HAT, donÕt let the bus shelters win.