The massive fibreglass dragon first appeared at Caerphilly Castle in March of this year and now it is on tour. This weekend it has appeared at Flint Castle and I got the opportunity to visit with my twins. Promotion claims it will be installed at ‘numerous castles’, but in reality this appears only to mean Caerphilly and Chepstow. Hence, this is a rare and disappointingly short appearance of the art in the north of the Principality.
Flint Castle is a stupendous fortress of English invasion and I have discussed it previously here. Since I last reported on it, there has been an augmentation of the visitor experience with bilingual audio stations at key points within it, including a new bench installed looking out over the Dee Estuary. This is a free-to-enter site.
I have previously expressed mixed feelings about the effectiveness and utility of these temporary art installations in Welsh castles. Some seem effective and connect to the story of the sites (see my discussion of Kidwelly Castle), allowing temporary re-envisionings of these spaces and the stories inhabiting them. These examples needn’t permanently impose themselves and detract from existing heritage interpretations.
Others such as this dragon, and the Shirley Bassey statue temporarily displayed at Caernarfon earlier this year, are historically bereft and appeal to a banal nationalism and mindless popularism. They appear to have little to do with the contexts in which they are installed and seem to have zero educational value.
Still, they are great for photo opportunities and the idea of a dragon, only partly visible and emerging from beneath the surface of the site, is certainly evocative of the relationship with the subterranean (although it is difficult to imagine where the rest of the beast’s body is supposed to be, given that the art has been installed right in from of a large moat containing no traces of dragon). As well as the allusions to transhistorical Welshness of the beast, coinciding with Wales’s awesome Euro championship performance in which they reached the semi-finals, the beast also appeals to popular recent dragonesque manifestations from Game of Thrones to The Hobbit.
When I was there, it was evident that visitors were flocking to see the dragon. It captured kids’ imagination in particular, who enjoyed clambering over it.Many of the people drawn to the site were also exploring the ruins too. Therefore, the dragon has served as a way of alerting people to the castle’s presence and attracting them. It’s a pity, therefore, that there seemed no attempt to connect the art to the place’s history in any regard. The dragon is simply a celebrity visitor rather than adding anything to the story of Flint.