I hope you’re sitting …uncomfortably… be it on your sofa, chair, or bean bag (if that’s how you choose to live your life). Voici, this is my second blog about my Dark Place. My Dark Age Place. Otherwise known to the public as ‘Tintagel, Cornwall’.
I hate labels, but if I’d have to call myself anything, it would be an ‘imaginer’. So I take no small amount of pleasure in ‘imagining’ the prominent bronze sculpture recently commissioned by English Heritage for the interpretation of the history and legends about Tintagel.
The sculpture depicts a medieval king resting on his sword. It is prominently positioned at the north-westernmost end of island. EH present it here, delicately balancing identities for this anonymous figure between different possibilities: a Dark Age ruler of Cornwall (King Mark?), Richard Earl of Cornwall, or Arthur himself. News stories about it can be found here and here.
It is called ‘Gallos’ by Rubin Enyon and it is just over adult height, at 8 foot. Apparently one of the EH staff was used as a model for this figure.
Dramatic still was its installation, as it had to be helicoptered into position. Flying sculpture? It beggars belief!
Visiting my Dark Place
I recently visited Tintagel to see what all the fuss is about. I was accompanied by my colleague Dr Ruth Nugent. It is because of women like her that the sculpture was criticised in the first place. Great sculpture, getting nothing but flak.
We walked around the EH site of Tintagel in the only way we knew how: by placing one leg in front of the other in quick succession. We stretched the visit out by using slow motion whenever there wasn’t dialogue…
Of course, I wish I was digging up treasure with those young bucks, but I’m old, tired, spent, busted, rusted, stuck visiting heritage sites with nothing but a moody woman for company. At least I wasn’t stuck behind a desk I could no longer trust.
I want to briefly discuss how the sculpture operates in its position – as far out to sea on the top of the island that one might go, and yet looking back over the land. In this location, it has intended and unintended interactions with its topography for visitors.
From a Distance
It works in a distinctive way from long distance, creating an ever-watching sentinel over the coast. Here are some views of the sculpture from the mainland to the west and south: both from the village of Tintagel and the coastal path from St Materiana’s Church. It gives one an ultimate destination as a walker, as well as offers a scale with which to apprehend the topography in a fashion one couldn’t have done before, given the rocky treeless environment.
On the island
The sculpture also operates as a landmark for visitors to navigate the top of the island. Visitors may take many routes between the locales on the island beyond the castle. Yet the sculpture exploits the pre-existing north-western end-point for walks for those who are also exploring the Dark Age settlement remains, walled garden, ruined church, tunnel and other features upon the island.
Finally, we meet the sculpture up close. Here we find a ghostly apparition, half tangible, half implied. His expression is neutral, his face partly hidden by his hood. He is watching from unseen eyes…
The sculpture is a focus of visitor photography, but also its innards create the opportunity to move around but also through it.
I find myself liking the sculpture.
Anyone watching a puppet show and only looking at the strings is a freak! The same applies to Gallos. The sculpture is not an end in itself, it is intended as a gateway to the imagination.
Gallos is mutable and anonymous, counter-commemorative even. Yet it also reminds me of the Llandovery sculpture, also overlooking a ruined castle and mediating different dimensions to the history and legend of a heritage site. It is a king, but it can be anyone.
And so ends a chapter in a book that I fear is yet to close…