Art in Boulogne

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I planned to write today about the aesthetic experience of an overnight stay in an Ibis hotel. I was mostly taken by the fact that every image on every wall was a framed promotion of all the services Ibis have to offer. Which mostly meant 24/24 bar service, and free wifi. It’s likely of course that travellers passing through the Ibis experience usually don’t have time to unpack a case, let alone read an information file on the bedside table. So the posters do a necessary job spectacularly well.

However. When it came to finding an aesthetically satisfying and inspirational place at 7am for my last morning of writing morning pages on French soil, the Ibis bar was not my first choice. Architraves in reception were maddeningly absent, making it very hard on the casual roving eye of the artist. Never trust the espressos in an establishment that can’t be bothered to pay for decent architraves to enhance the environment for its staff. And the coffee would not be enhanced by the scent of fresh drains generally lingering around the rooms.

And so I found myself traipsing in the early morning through the old town of Boulogne in search of an open café in which to sit and write and muse.

The only place open as far as I could see was on the central square: a large area which appeared to be the subject of extensive refurbishment works. Without my glasses, I had a vague sight of barriers and tools and bits and pieces strewn about. But as I drew closer, I saw that it was actually a vast public art sculptural installation.

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The first bit of contemporary public art I had encountered in over a fortnight. Maybe this enforced isolation from the world of contemporary art had affected my faculties. I certainly felt a need to collect my thoughts as I gazed at the scene and tried to decide what I thought of it all. Was it even Public Art at all? Or a novel marketing concept? Was this even a relevant question in framing a response? (That’s something I must take up in a future post at some point).

Art or not, I decided it was pretty dire. This was a shame because the underlying desire to celebrate the agricultural produce of the region was a worthy one. I have no idea if it is a permanent feature of the old town, but I think if I had a flat overlooking the square, I would feel short-changed.

For a start, it struck me as massively out of scale both in its own terms and in terms of its surroundings. The insistent over-sized cutlery fence and giant-sized information labels were reminiscent of a Disney attraction. An over-crowded area of clambering hops dominated a corner of the ‘attraction’, and the ruthless subdivision of the ‘fields’ had the air of a juvenile drawing of land partition.

Clumsy mega-sized fibre-glass lumps of cows, cheese and other less identifiable food items clashed with each other and the vegetal plantings. Perhaps all the local schools had been asked to contribute an idea and a design.

As I said, I don’t know what this intended to be and whether that matters. But there is a tendency, I think, for any public art (however bad) to be seen as good, and better than having no public art. And I’m not sure that’s right. Maybe I’m a lone voice in this particular instance. Maybe the locals absolutely love it. Maybe it’s brought the local community together in a creative and inspiring way.

By 8am, however, I could count four gardeners pottering around, so it’s been a good for local job creation. Result.

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