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January 18, 2019

How to look at art: The Great Walk of Art

‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley, 2016,
‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley, 2016,

Last Saturday, I walked with the Great Walk of Art in London. The walk began at the Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square. Four plinths were built on the Square in the 19th century to hold statues of kings and generals. One of them was meant for William IV, but due to insufficient funds, remained empty for 150 years. Now it hosts artworks commissioned by the London Mayor.

The latest commission is the seven-metre-high sculpture of the hand giving the (disproportionably long) thumbs-up, titled ‘Really Good’, by David Shrigley. Mayor Sadiq Khan said when unveiling it: ‘It is a positive symbol of London’s readiness for a post-Brexit world,’ causing a few laughs. Shrigley’s works are satire, what he makes cannot be taken at a face value. Many, therefore, think the ‘Really Good’ is not a statement of optimism, but rather an aggressive, flipped-up finger.

Next on the route was the National Gallery. Joanne Rhymer, the wonderful Head of Adult Learning at the Gallery, told us about the work by Titian, ‘Death of Actaeon’. In it, Titian tells the story of a young hunter, Actaeon, and his encounter with Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Actaeon stumbles upon Diana bathing nude in a spring. The Goddess, in a fit of fury at the young man’s transgression, turns Actaeon into a deer, and he is hunted down by his own dogs.

Next was the Portrait Gallery. There, we looked at portraits of the Kit-cat Club members by artist Godfrey Kneller. Poet and playwright members gave the club a reputation for culture and refinement. Every new member had to commission his own portrait, and so Kneller painted 44 works. His simple format — head, shoulders and a hand — became known as a ‘kit-cat’.

Next was the Somerset House, where we first looked at the work by African artist Zak Ove. He created 40 two-metre-high statures called ‘Black and blue: The Invisible Men and the Masque of Blackness’. The work is about the relationship between the slavery and power.

In the Somerset House, we also took part in ‘Utopia Treasury’, a project about the essential role of imagination to build a just and fair society. The project is based on Thomas More’s 1516 book Utopia (meaning ‘unattainable good’). It depicts a society on the fictional island of Utopia, where there is no private property, no unemployment, and no prisons. Women and men are equal. Six-hour working day, welfare, and free hospitals. Everyone is encouraged to learn, and the best scholars are selected as rulers. All of us had to contribute to the Utopia Treasury our own ideas to how we might live and work better.

Tate Modern was the last destination of the walk. We saw nine video installations by Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who imagined a town populated by men escaping reality and building a new world. The installation took place in The Tanks, huge circular spaces that were storing oil when the Tate Modern gallery was a power station. ‘No longer generating electricity, The Tanks generate ideas and creative energy’ says the gallery. Our energy had run out four hours after we began the walk, but it was incredibly inspiring to have walked through time, history, and ideas. A true creativity workout!


Artists, designers and entrepreneurs, can you commit a few hours fostering creativity of young Kenyans? If so, email [email protected]

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