Monday, May 24, 2010

Ship in a Bottle

     What the fuck?  There is a gigantic ship in the bottle on a pedistal in the middle of Trafalgar Square in London.  And that doesn't make any sense.
     First of all, ships in bottles do not belong on pedistals in the middle of public squares.  They belong in aging family practice doctor's dens, or precariously perched on a bookshelf in a TV situation comedy.  They don't belong in one of the most visible spots in all of the world.  They reason is that they are very hard to build, and that they are super precarious.  Super duper precarious.  If a high wind hits them they fall down.  If they are in your wood paneled study and the heavyset maid gets a little exuberant while vacuuming it is abandon ship because it's going down.  So why put one in such a high profile place.
     And it IS a high profile place, in which the British just seem to love putting things.  Big public things.  This is the place where there was a sort of art exhibit by Antony Gormley that was going on for the longest time where members of the public who applied would get one hour to stand on the pedistal and do whatever they wanted.  That was pretty cool.  They would either take a nap or play the violin or talk about the genius of Benny Hill or reenact a great speech from parliament for an hour.  It was wildly popular, as would be expected, and it made all sorts of international headlines, as would also be expected.
     So the ship in a bottle has some pretty big shoes to fill.  It is a 1:29 scale replica of the HMS Victory, whose name you might recognize but whose service record you most surely don't care about.  Apparently the exhibit of the ship is supposed to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, after which the square is named, unless of course the battle was named after the square, and which took place in 1805, AND the 50th Anniversary of Nigerian Independence, which seems to me are two things that have absolutely nothing to do with one another, seeing as how the Battle of Trafalgar had nothing to do with British colonialism and the colony of Nigeria wasn't really involved in the War of the Third Coalition against Spain and Napoleonic France.  It is almost like artist Yinka Shonibare, who is from Nigeria, was sitting around one day going "Man, I really want to do something to comemmorate the 50th Anniversary of Nigerian Independence, that would be cool.  But how am I going to get a chance to put my tribute up in a really public place.  Oh, I know, I will make it a lame sailing ship and tell white people it also commemorates something they care about."  Smart move Yinka, it got you on the big plinth in Trafalgar Square.  Either that or he was high and just hit the "random article" button on Wikipedia twice.
      The piece, however, does show that some thought was put into it.  Because although it is a stuffy replica of a creaky English ship from 205 years ago, its sails have been altered.  Instead of being lily white like normal sails of sailing ships, they are brightly colored and patterend in pattern that is always associated with African culture.  That's pretty cool, although I would suspect that most tourists wandering by Trafalgar Square on a typical English Tuesday don't really know that.  They probably just like the bright colors.
     Anyway, I give Yinka credit fro what he has done, it's a pretty creative and original idea.  That however, does not mean that I like it.  Personally, I sort of think it's dumb.  Unless there is plaque down at the base that explains the whole thing, people are just going to see a ship in a bottle with funky sails.  Sorry.  But I am glad you were able to get your work put on public display.  More power to you.  And Happy 50th Anniversary of Nigerian Independence.  And congratulations on that victory in that 205 year-old naval battle.  Good job.

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