July 06, 2009

Flailing Trees

Aside from Jeremy Deller's entertaining Procession on Sunday, Manchester International Festival's only effort at public art is Gustav Metzger's Flailing Trees.


According to the festival brochure "Walking or driving the same streets every day, many of us take our surroundings for granted." I wonder, does that mean anything? Anyway, Gustav Metzger "challenges this sense of security with Flailing Trees, an arresting and poignant new piece of public art that will stand in the Manchester Peace Garden for the duration of the Festival." I don't quite get this: usually taking things for granted is taken as a criticism of complacency, but apparently 'many of us' are guilty of a sense of security - I am not so sure that the absence of anxiety is a bad thing. As you can see from the picture, Flailing Trees comprises 21 willows inverted in a concrete block, "a subversion of the natural order that brings nature and the environment into sharp focus. With flourishing branches replaced by dying roots, the sculpture is both a plea for reflection and a plaintive cry for change, and is sure to provide a catalyst for debate." At the launch event, it was contextualised with the notion that cities are by definition brutal to the environmental and Manchester in particular is a city with few green open spaces and trees. So engaging with the debate: the piece is not arresting, as far as I observed no-one stopped to look at it. Although I have seen at least two other artworks featuring upside down trees so it is not particularly original, taking it on its own terms, even if I was a soft headed eco-romantic, any capacity to poignance is undermined by the clumsiness of the concrete plinth; it's dying roots are not a plea for reflection because they are dead; reflection is much more likely if the observer leaves this behind and sits in the Peace Garden itself; and aesthetically how is simplistic symbolism subversive?

1 comment:

Bournemouth Runner said...

Flailing Trees has been the one major disappointment at the festival, partly because Alex Poots was so convinced it was one of the most exciting commissions. Perhaps a "bigging up" of something that was never going to live up to it. I agree with your points about its lack of originality, but mostly, it seemed a site specific work that was in the wrong place, as if the artist had only seen Manchester from maps. Its mix of dead trees and concrete was dwarfed by the live trees and concrete of its particular location, and more than anything it seemed to offer only a static "no comment" on any environmental/use of public space issues, sadly similar to a lot of post-war minimalism, that doesn't really offer either much stillness or subtlety as a reflection of anything in the current time. That it will find an after-life in the park at the Whitworth seems equally surprising.