Wednesday 27 November 2013

Lack of Respect for Ancient Monuments in Today's Britain

Referring to recent "additions" to the Uffington White Horse and the moustache added to the Cerne Abbas Giant, Heritage Action ask: "Stunts at monuments: is there a policy on the subject?" 27/11/2013. They argue that such modifications hardly foster any respect for ancient sites and monuments (what's new in dig it all up Great Britain?) and whether such stunts "carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere".

One thinks in this context in particular of the vandalism of an 1844 equestrian monument to the Duke of Wellington by the important nineteenth century sculptor Carlo Marochetti in Glasgow. Pranksters continually clamber up to place a traffic rod cone on the head of the person commemorated and/or his horse damaging the fragile bronze cast and its patina:
According to Gary Nesbit, a leading expert on Glasgow's public statues, damage is being done to the duke by decades of being climbed upon [...] He said: "His sword is damaged, the plinth is scuffed, it's covered with stickers and biological growth and how we treat a monument to a symbol of all that is wonderful about the British military is a disgrace [...] What's needed is illumination and cameras".
Earlier pleas have gone unheeded (Stephanie Todd, 'Council in road cone statue plea' BBC News Scotland, Wednesday, 16 February, 2005): "The Duke has lost his spurs and half his sword as a result of pranksters trying to scale the structure", one of course not meant to be climbed on. Recently moves were afoot by those entrusted with care of the monument to restrict access of vandals to the monument, but they were opposed by a campaign led by a Leverhulme fellow at Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, a member of the Glasgow "Trafficking Culture" project. Personally, I think this raises a number of questions which need discussing.* If this was a stele in the Central American jungle getting its glyphs scuffed and knobs knocked off by drunken local businessmen, foresters and farmers continually climbing onto it to place an empty tequila bottle comically on top of it, would it be so "funny"? Does the fact that its in 'everything goes' Britain make it any the more acceptable? What attitudes lie behind encouraging such acts? Cultural expression or lack-of-culture? Use of a public monument or misuse? Respect for historical sites and monuments or disrespect? Do we look after the remains of the past, or let people clamber all over it doing what they feel like doing at the time? Is today's drunken dumb-down disrespect for a work of art which has come down from the past a substitute for respect for (and understanding of) the artist's original message and the intentions of those who paid for the creation of the monument? When we talk of preservation, what is it we are trying to conserve and pass on to our children and why?

* Not least because the act itself is an offence.

Vignette: The White Heritage Hero of Uffington  ("Detectorist Stunt 'A Desecration' Say Residents", Saturday, 10 March 2012

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