Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Animal Crackers

We recently spent two weeks in North Wales, and during that time made an excursion to Liverpool. Our objective was the Klimt Exhibition at the Tate there, but we took advantage of our route to stop off at Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Gallery. Port Sunlight is, like Bourneville in Birmingham, an amazingly spacious and pretty housing estate built to accommodate factory workers, in this case at the Sunlight Soap factory. Unlike Bourneville (for the Cadbury family supported the Temperance Movement) there were even local pubs, and additionally the amenity of this wonderful Art Gallery. I suspect that, these days, the houses go for a pretty price and that the estate is solidly middle class, but I'll need to investigate that history another time.

To my disappointment, the wonderful collection of embroideries was not on display, although I enjoyed seeing some Pre-Raphaelite paintings and sculptures. In the grounds, we encountered a strange modern sculpture, like an animal which resembled a sheep with a kangaroo's tail, painted all in sky blue, with white clouds dotted across its surface. It reminded me a little of Jeff Koon's Balloon Dog, which we saw in Venice on the Grand Union Canal two years ago. Inside the Museum Shop, I bought a book of the collection which included pictures of some embroideries, and as I queued to pay, noticed a booklet about the Superlambananas (for so these creatures are called) and added it to my shopping basket. As we were leaving I noticed a companion creature in different colours, across the road outside the Heritage Centre.

On the journey into Liverpool, I began to notice more of these creatures. We managed to park close to Albert Dock, and on our way in (outside the entrance to the Beatles Story) came to face to face with this:-

I have since discovered that the original Superlambanana was 17ft high, and created by Taro Chiezo as a protest or comment about genetic engineering. I think he was very generous to allow his idea to be translated into 2 metre high canvases for artists to decorate and they certainly inject colour and fun into the city landscape and engage people of many ages in this art-form. The variety is wonderful. It is even possible to buy your own Superlambanana to decorate or enjoy as is!

Last Friday, we had a mini outing to the City of Bath, and as we drove in, a sense of deja vu came over me. Small, colourful and decorated creatures appeared on pavements and in the playground at Victoria Park. We arrived in the city centre and soon made a closer acquaintance with one of these sculptures, and learned that, in Bath, they are not Superlambananas but King Bladud's Pigs.

Again, this was a community art project. Pigs were sponsored by local people (including Jamie Cullum) and businesses (the one above was sponsored by Wessex Water) and then decorated by artists (including Kaffe Fassett, Candace Bahouth and Brandon Mably).
Sometimes the sponsors had a say in the decoration of the pig,

(this one was sponsored by Norland Nannies)

while others left it to the artists to choose how to colour and embellish the pig-canvas.

I like this Roman Pig with attitude - his name is Pignacius!

Again, it is possible to purchase your own pig to decorate and enliven your house or garden. I am quite tempted - I'd like one of each, really. There are also little ones for sale - piglets, I suppose.

Why pigs? Well, legend has it that King Bladud developed an unsightly disease of his skin (probably leprosy) and was cast out of court and the city and left to live his life in isolation as a swineherd. Unfortunately, the pigs developed the same disorder and were very uncomfortable. They found ease in bathing in mud and in water. They came across one particular spring and, when they bathed there, their skin healed. Bladud observed this and copied their example and was cured. He was able to return to his city, and the people made him king again. Thus Bath's reputation for healing waters was assured and many people have since followed the example of King Bladud in taking the waters there.

Following the Links tab on the King Bladud's Pigs site will introduce you to other, similar community art projects - including cows - now in eight cities(!), Elephants in Norwich and Bears in Berlin.

At the end of their exhibitions, in the autumn, the Superlambananas and Pigs of Bath will be auctioned off to raise funds for local projects.

Meanwhile, they've certainly brightened up a very dismal summer.


hippopip said...

I love the pigs I shall have to venture to Bath to see them, and how lovely to meet up with Digital Gran,glad you enjoyed your holiday even with the atrocious weather

verobirdie said...

I love those pigs and the story that goes with it.
Thanks for sharing!

Kristin L said...

How fun! The Superlambananas are great. I saw the cows 10 years ago in Lausanne, Switzerland (perhaps the first location of this public art form), and then more a few years ago in Luxembourg. I even had a chance to see the bears in Berlin -- they were wonderful because in addition to local artists and groups, they had international bears in a big circle, decorated by representatives of dozens of different countries.