'Some have-a-go hero dived off a river cruiser'
James Lingwood, May 2002Photograph Lisa Harty
Stephan Balkenhol’s two sculptures for the River Thames came about through a collaboration with the Hayward Gallery in relation to one of their exhibitions called Doubletake, which took as its starting point the idea of collective memory as expressed in contemporary art. Both Stephan and Juan Muñoz were invited to consider the possibility of realising temporary monuments or memorials in the vicinity of the Southbank Centre as a way of reflecting on the relationship between the monument and memory in the modern metropolis.
Stephan realised two projects. One was Head of a Man, a large wooden sculpture, which stood on top of a pier next to Blackfriars’ Bridge. The other one was a sculpture called Figure On A Buoy moored in the River Thames between Hungerford Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. Bobbing up and down, the mobility of the sculpture posed questions about the relationship between stability and fixed meaning, or permanence. Permission from the Port of London Authority was secured – buoys are in mapped positions because of navigational channels. The sculpture was installed. Then the press got hold of it. There appeared to have been a deluge of people either contacting various authorities, some of whom just reporting the existence of this alien object, some complaining, some reporting that there was a figure drowning, or a figure waving …. The police were impatient because of the number of calls they were getting. We managed to persuade them that after the first couple of weeks, the media attention would die down. But a few days after the last discussions with the police and the Port of London Authority some have-a-go hero dived off a river cruiser to rescue the sculpture, and of course then he had to be rescued, at which point we were compelled to make its status a little less ambiguous. It was relocated onto a kind of pontoon. The original idea of the work was predicated on its vulnerability – this figure out there in the middle of the river – and its mobility. It didn’t look right away from its buoy, and we agreed to take it down.