The Sculpture ‘Marmite’ Question:

What do you love?

Section of the London Wall
Section of London Wall, Tower Hill (photo: Creative Commons)

What do you hate?

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London
Edward Hodges Baily, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London (Creative Commons)

David Blandy replies:

I love the London Wall. Growing up in London, I was always aware of these incongruous stretches of broken wall amongst the concrete, walking through to the Barbican. My dad liked to tell us about how this wall was built by the Romans, that London was much smaller then, so this street in central London marked the very edge of what London was. London isn’t like Rome, you don’t get many glimpses of its ancient past, but this monumental relic marked a moment when I first understood Britain’s historical place as a colony of an empire, that this island’s history was intimately entwined with the world around us. At a time when this nation is attempting to build impossible walls around us, to hark back to an imagined golden age, the London Wall shows the futility of that instinct. We have to embrace the world, because all walls fall eventually. The London Wall began life as a practical structure, to define a space, to keep the unwanted out, but now it has evolved through time to be a monument to those past times and those failed ideas. A public monument commemorating the failure of empire.

I actually hate most public sculpture. So much of it commemorates figureheads of empire, the powerful and wealthy, who shaped public discourse and have consolidated Britain’s position through war, colonisation and the enslavement of others. Admiral Nelson was a vehement opponent of Wilberforce’s battle to abolish slavery, and has pride of place on his column; Edward Colston in Bristol earned a statue and multiple place names by contributing to the economy through the slave trade. These statues and the ongoing struggles around them, to amend the Colston statue to acknowledge his history, or remove the statue of avowed white supremacist, Cecil Rhodes, from Oriel College in Oxford, show how entrenched power and privilege are in this country.

Blandy’s solo exhibition,‘The World After’, a New Geographies commission inspired by the nature reserve of Canvey Wick in Essex, will be shown at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea later this year.