To clarify: From the start, this post has nothing to do with ‘Animal Farm’, its author George Orwell or indeed much if anything to do with politics. It does however have a lot to do with pigs, people and to some extent definitions of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. Fear not though, neither will I be getting too philosophical or start digressing into a discussion on ethics. What’s it all about? ‘Snout and about’ of course: “The public art project with a twist in its tail!”
Launched this Monday in the Orchard Shopping Centre and former ‘home’ to the wooden pig seats me and Michael Fairfax unveiled the pigs along with their new look to the people of Taunton. The, ‘twist in its tail’ that the project title refers to is that the original pig seats have been altered lest they be left to languish in a store room in the shopping centre rotting, gathering dust and in some cases, falling to bits. The other ‘twist’, perhaps, is that who could have predicted the reaction they would receive sparking some strong opinions of a ‘marmite’ nature. Or then again, to cause such a stir, a debate, ‘delight’ or ‘outrage’ may be exactly the point that was intended. Reactions from, ‘Fit for the bonfire’ to ‘Drop them off at the recycle centre when you've done with them’, ‘They looked better when they were covered in pigeon mess’ and ‘This reminds me of the Italian woman destroying the Jesus painting’ to ‘21st Century makeover for 21st Century pigs’, ‘Love it or hate it that’s the beauty of art’ and ‘Awesome! I love them!’
Wow! “Welcome to the world of public art,” I tell myself. Still, could have been worse, they might have received no reaction at all. Besides, and it is important to stress, that these pigs are no longer functioning as they did as seats. They’ve not been designed with sitting in mind or to be aesthetically in-keeping with a particular location operating in the way that public seating is supposed to do. Love or hate them, they’ve been turned into ‘art’ objects that are to be auctioned for charity then after their purpose or destiny is a mystery yet to be defined.
What are my thoughts, well I think it would have been naive to think that covering one of Taunton’s beloved pig seats in collaged images of tools wasn’t going to promote some accusations of ‘vandalism’ or desecration. In fact, admittedly on a regular basis I commit the act of desecrating sheets of brilliant white paper with drawings, scribbles and doodles. I too, am long aware of the sentimentality and, as ridiculous as it may sound to some, ‘icon-like’ status that the pig seats in their original condition had (for let’s put it in perspective, they were only seats and not a unique commissioned piece of artwork). I grew-up in Taunton and have great fondness for the pigs and toads which is why the decision to ‘do’ something with the pig seats as to leaving them to rot and eventually be thrown away could only be seen as a positive thing from my point of view (baring in mind I was also doing this for free). So much so, that my original reaction was ‘to auction them as they are’, that was until I saw the state they were in at least! When talking about restoration is it about restoring something back that was lost, preserving what is already there or re-enacting what something would have looked like when new? Or is it better to create something entirely new and use an act of destruction in order to recreate or transform? Therein lays the debate as to what would have been a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ use of the pig seats. Personally, I’d like to think my intervention sits somewhere between the two, restoring what was once there and additionally changing it to make it into something new, leaving my mark so to speak. Or to reiterate what I said in the guide book;
“I have adorned my pig with collaged images of hand tools. Featured are images of tools used in farming past and present which I hope create an association that alludes to the history of Taunton as a market town. I wanted to remain sensitive to the original design of the pig as I saw my role as one of preserving as well as restoring the original seat that I had grown up with. Much time, love and care was spent cleaning, polishing and staining the wood before collaging the tools onto its surface. The level of reverence and respect that has been demonstrated in restoring the pig echoes the treatment, appreciation and awe I have towards tools as the inspiration in my own art practice. I wanted very much to retain the original recognisability of the pig seat as an icon of my own and many others childhoods whilst giving it a new look as an art object that left my own mark, as an artist but still had an association with the agricultural context of Taunton’s market history.”
So if, ‘Four legs good’ is the pigs and ‘two legs’ bad is us, (the humans) then perhaps there is an irony in that quote that is similar to the reaction towards our (the artists) intervention with the pigs. Maybe we should have left the pigs alone and succumb to their own ends, they may have started a revolution and created a political upheaval before in a megalomaniacal reverse in fortune become the makers of their own undoing. But then again, maybe they are just pig shaped blocks of wood that had it not been for our involvement would have been on three legs and quite frankly on their last legs! Or who knows, could have even eventually found their way into Tesco frozen beef lasagne!