08 November 2018
Mine’s bigger than yours.
By Neil Tidmarsh
Welcome to Cragside, the grand Tudor Revival mansion built by the architect Richard Norman Shaw in the 1870’s for Lord Armstrong, and acquired by the National Trust in 1977.
Over here, on this side of the great hall, you will see a bronze statue of the famous Mr… hang on, what’s that? A plastic bag? Has someone put a white plastic bag over the statue? And over there – just next to it – the marble bust of Mr… we can’t see that, either! Someone’s put a plastic bag over him, too! And there… and there… and there… All these statues of famous men! They’ve all been covered over! Why? What’s going on?
“It’s called ‘The Great Cragside Cover-Up’, a contemporary art installation,” says the National Trust spokesperson. “To highlight the work of Lord Armstrong’s wife and female servants in his home and women workers in his factories.”
“It’s funded by a grant from Victoria Atkins, minister for women, as part of her ‘women and industry’ programme.”
“Concealing some of the male objects and artefacts within the house might shift the lens slightly so these women would have the space to shine” said one of the (female) artists involved.
But… But… Cragside – it’s just one big man-cave, for heavens sake! It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity – William Armstrong himself designed the generator! He was the ultimate gadget-guy – he makes Jeremy Clarkson look like Oscar Wilde! An engineer and an industrial magnate, he made hydraulic cranes, engines, accumulators and bridges! And armaments – yes, he designed the famous Armstrong breech-loading gun, the massive, long-barrelled, powerful, thrusting cannon which blasted its way across the battlefields of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ejaculating explosive shells left, right and centre. Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Covering up the male images will bring out the lack of representation of women” said another of the (female) artists.
It’s statue envy, that’s what it is! You’re just jealous because you haven’t got one!
“It is not unusual for some people to dislike or disagree with what they see in contemporary art” said the National Trust spokesperson. “This is not about censoring art or being politically correct, but to encourage people to look at the collection differently and to stimulate debate.”
Right – right – I tell you what we’re going to do! We’re going to build a huge statue of a man – not a woman – a bloody great giant of a statue, the biggest in the world, and then we’ll see if you can cover that up! Ha, ha, I’d like to see you try!
In fact, we’ve already built it! Look, over there, in India – this week prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s tallest statue – the Statue of Unity – a massive bronze figure of independence leader Sardar Patel – it’s 182 metres tall, twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, almost four times as tall as Nelson’s Column! Look at it – The Iron Man of India – upright, thrusting, erect, almost 200 towering meters of rock-hard metal! Truly, India can now say to the rest of the world – to China (Spring Temple Buddha only 128m), to the USA (Statue of Liberty a mere 93m), to Great Britain (Nelson’s Column a paltry 52m) – “Mine’s bigger than yours!”
And India isn’t stopping there – an even taller statue is planned for Mumbai harbour. A vast statue of the Hindu king Shivaji will be completed within the next three years – he’ll be 126m tall, but he’ll be standing on an 86m pedestal, so at a total of 212m he’ll be able to look down even on Sardar Patel’s Statue Of Unity. Oh, yeah!
What do you say to that, huh? Reckon you can find a bag big enough to pop those two big boys in, huh?
They’re just nationalist vanity projects, and their cost – a staggering £700 million – is a shocking waste of money which would have been better spent helping those millions of Indians who live in poverty. And as for covering them up in protest – if every woman in India decided to protest against their country’s dreadful record of rape and other sex crimes by making a bag big enough, well, there are 586 million of them so I’m sure they’d manage it.
Oh yeah? Yeah? All right, do you know what we’re going to do now, then? I’ll tell you what we’re going to do – we’re going to build a huge statue – a huge, long, thrusting, stiff, erect statue – in outer space! Yes, that’s what we’re going to do!
In fact, we’re already doing it! Look up there, in the night sky, this autumn – that speck of light; it isn’t a new star – it’s the Orbital Reflector, the world’s first space sculpture, a giant inflated artwork the shape of an elongated diamond, the length of a football pitch and the width of a standing man! The work of US artist Trevor Paglen, it’s being packed into a small cube and delivered to the international space station by one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX falcon 9 rockets (long! thrusting! powerful!). It’s then going to be released into space, and the cube will immediately inflate into the long, stiff, fully-erect work of art attached to a satellite which will orbit Earth once every ninety minutes, 350 miles away. We’ll be able to see it, a twinkle in the distance, just after dusk and just before dawn, as it catches and reflects the sun’s rays.
How about that, then? Out of this world, huh? Try covering that up, baby!
I won’t have to. You can’t keep it up, you know. You can’t keep it up for very long at all. Less than a month, in fact. Then it will start to detumesce, I mean, start to deflate, and get smaller and smaller and smaller, and slowly fall to earth, down and down and down, until – tiny and flaccid – it will simply burn up and – puff! – disappear altogether.
Oh… I feel a bit upset now… why do I feel a bit upset? What a spoil sport. I don’t know whether I can be bothered to get it up, after all. I’m going home. I think I might watch some football. I don’t feel like doing anything else. Except having a cry. But I’m not going to cry, I’m not…