Tuesday, 22 July 2008

carpet brushing…

walking through albert square today i stumbled into the dismantling of carpet, the giant installation for britain in bloom made from over 60,000 flowers and 900m of turf, emblazoned across the victorian neogothic magnificence that is our town hall over the last week.

described by m.e.n as 'an elaborate carpet design in specially scented and colourful flowers' and 'an artistic nod to the city's Cottonopolis past', i have watched with interest its development from the laying of long rolls of turf last weekend to the laborious efforts of over 100 volunteers as the intricate design took shape along the lengths of lush turf. consequently i am somewhat loath to be the sort of smart arse who would pour scorn on such an ambitious looking artwork for the city, especially one that ostensibly brings colour, beauty and green life into an urban landscape with precious little of these! but from the outset something has been troubling me which today’s vigorous brushing only magnified.

at first sight it seems churlish to be finding fault with this harmless floral confection, a blaze of green and pink laid out as an oversized carpet across the cobbles of the municipal square – a guerrilla greening, a radical intervention into an institutional space, a formal symbol of authority and paternalism - a perfect example in fact of much contemporary art practice that seeks to challenge and contest the stranglehold endemic in today's heavily branded consumer oriented cities, one that engages in those 'tiny revolutions' so beloved of Bourriaud and his participatory relational art practices.

to the casual observer the city council, in its endorsing of this extravagent creation, might even appear to have responded to the current exhibition in urbis, urban gardening, whose introduction exhorts cities and its citizens to ‘make your city a greener, friendlier, healthier place and maybe even help save the planet’.

but on closer inspection its not all roses or in this case Anastasia chrysanthemums. like so much of the official bluster and rhetoric of the city, carpet is all surface and illusion – the project literally has no roots, no soil in which to grow and flourish, no sustainability. today’s clear-up operation eloquently conveys the weaknesses of yet another ill conceived imposition on to the urban landscape.

the first clue lies in the very title – carpet not garden or meadow or even lawn – not alive with the potential to permanently enhance the fabric and experience of the city, a city in desperate need of more places to sit and enjoy the simple pleasures of grass and flowers, to contemplate and be part of nature - those birds, bees, ladybirds, caterpillars and butterflies that inhabit green places and bring countless benefits to our parched lives.

the second clue is its ephemerality, built-in decay and obsolescence, the whiff of wasted effort and money overpowering any scent from the 60,000 imported and cut chrysanthemums! ephemerality in itself of course isn’t a flawed concept – it’s a familiar one in locational, site situated art practice, its very unexpectedness or wrong place-ness jolting the passer-by into the contemplation of something otherwise easily overlooked. no, the concern is the woefully missed opportunity in the growing and importing of so many beautiful flowers simply to be cut and dyed to create a pretence, an indulgence, an urban folly. the futility of this feverish activity for a 4 day installation is perhaps symptomatic of an ongoing shortsightedness and lack of vision of the city authorities and its various partners, quangos and funding bodies that borders on bloody mindedness, even a form of vandalism. the carpet itself is of course well intentioned and beautifully executed - part of a wider european tradition of floral carpets - and whilst i'm not suggesting the laying of this one perpetrates any vandalism, it does reflect a wider policy of the council to litter the city and its surroundings with a variety of short lived floral displays in expensive and invariably ugly planters that once withered serve only to emphasis our disconnection with nature.
vertical gardening paris style

that carpet should be the city’s prime installation at the same time as the truly inspiring urban gardening exhibition is a best a coincidence, at worse a feeble attempt to pull the damask wool carpet over our collective eyes, fooling us into believing it is actually engaging with the issues, projects and valiant efforts illustrated at urbis, some grassroots, others largescale but all achieving green revolutions in cities across the world.

as the introduction to urban gardening points out,
‘city life often leads us into a lifestyle where the natural world is kept at bay, buried beneath concrete and tarmac and obliterated by the seamless edged glistening city of glass and steel’.

wow, they could be describing Manchester today - and that can’t simply be brushed under a giant floral carpet…

1 comment:

Seán said...

Carpet is surely symptomatic of the modern social climate: a sudden bluster of activity, a brief display of grandiosity and a total lack of substance. Expensive ephemera are indeed the order of the day.
Permanent enhancement of the city by means of new green and pink spaces, though, is unlikely due to one simple fact: expense.

Ephemeral artworks such as carpet may be expensive in the short term, but not anywhere near as pricey as an area needing constant supervision and upkeep.
Once these flowers had faded and the turf gone yellow from abuse it could simply be thrown away rather than fixed.

Sadly, in the end, it all comes down to the vulgar subject of money.