I watched the wonderful documentary ‘Man on a wire’ the other day. This story of Frenchman Philippe Petit’s determined effort to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in New York was incredibly powerful. During 1974 he plotted and planned until he was able to rig his wire between the tops of the Twin Towers. He then spent over an hour practising his art of wire-walking.
Apart from the jaw dropping visual aspects of this film one of the other things that struck me was Philippe’s reaction to the questions posed by the American Journalists. He couldn’t understand that the only question that they asked was, ”Why had he done it?” For him, the beauty of the act was justification itself. This is a typical Gaelic reaction but it reminded me of the dilemma that we face in this country when we begin to look into the subject of public art.
In this country we seem to be culturally programmed to react negatively to public art, particularly when it doesn’t conform to our perception of how it should look. We might, as with the new tribute to the Queen Mother, readily accept a public monument. The key to this acceptance however seems to be based upon some simple reference points. It must be easily recognisable, accurately rendered, and show an obvious level of artist skill.