Glasgow’s Festival Park artwork started the wrong conversation

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The purpose of ART is manifold, and the responses that works elicit are limitless – joy and fear, disgust and pleasure and so on.

Controversy and art go hand in hand. What artist wants his creation to be greeted with soft whispers of acceptance or universal agreement? Very few and those who do are in the wrong job.

So I’m sure that a heated discussion would have been an expected and not unwanted response to a new piece of art appearing on the gates of a Glasgow park.

The steel creation, titled “Hypothesis – To Be In Context Or Not To Be In Context, That Is The Question” was designed to spark discussion.

What he provoked instead was near universal condemnation as a thousand female jaws dropped and a thousand more female voices roared in dissent.

The artwork, which appeared earlier this month at Festival Park in Cessnock, depicts a pair of crudely drawn aluminum legs wearing a pair of red high heels. So far, so past. Where we get really excited is that each leg is attached to either side of a pair of doors so that they separate when the doors are opened.

To enter the park, we cross the slit at the top of the legs apart. An uproar led to the prompt removal of the gates installation by Glasgow City Council.

It turned out that the sponsoring arts organization hadn’t asked for permission before tying up the legs and they fell out.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote a few articles on local authority removing items placed in public spaces without permission. A refrigerator used as a community pantry was one; a poster advertising a cycling petition was another. I imagine the legs now held in the same Depot for confiscated things, wedged to the side of the pantry.

It is an art exhibition that I would go to see.

Icelandic-Irish artist Rakel McMahon was asked on social media if she was aware that an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped earlier this year in the park.

Yes, she replied, she had. “Parks and green spaces in a city are generally not safe places for women, especially after dark,” she added.

Indeed. So why create a work of art in the image of the legs of a faceless woman, robbing her of her power to open and close them?

Ms McMahon said in the same article that she was working on a “project that comments on sexual harassment in parks and public spaces.”

How do we know, she says, that those legs are female legs, just because they’re wearing high heels – can’t high heels be for everyone?

“I think the work touches the discourse on blaming victims in sexual harassment,” she said. “In addition to giving the park a feminine atmosphere that these green spaces need.”

If this is an attempt to reduce the clear misogyny in the artwork, it is an instant failure.

What a contradiction: she says that we should not assign clothes according to gender stereotypes … but also that the legs are feminine. Which one is it?

And what does the feminine vibe have to do with a park? Are the grass and trees currently too manly? Would pink flower beds solve sexual harassment in public spaces?

Some of us don’t want our assumptions questioned on a trip to the park, we just want to sit on the grass or take a peaceful stroll.

The work was commissioned by the Ltd Ink Corporation collective as part of an artistic journey around the community called Safari of Sorts, a clanger in a clanger. Govan and Cessnock are two of Glasgow’s most socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. A safari encourages tourists to come and admire the animals, but from a safe distance.

I would like to know more about the rationale for all of this, but unfortunately Ltd Ink Corporation did not respond to my request for comment. His website says he can “take more risks and have more control” with art because of its “private funding.”

May I suggest that he relinquish some of that control to consulting women before taking a risk on misogynistic public art? Or at least responds to them when they want to engage in a dialogue that they have chosen to spark.

Ms McMahon also said in her Instagram posts that city parks are not a safe place for women, especially after dark.

She’s right, and how to challenge and change that is a valuable conversation to have. Displaying legs on the hips, to be penetrated at will by anyone and everyone, is not a useful addition to the dialogue.

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