On Friday, when The Hawick Paper’s weekly email arrived in my inbox, I made a mental note to go get a copy of this week’s edition. I’m not a subscriber at the moment, but it’s (some might say surprisingly) easy to pick up a copy in Galashiels.
The front page features a bold image, an artists’ representation of a proposal for a new sculpture in the town, to be called The Border Queen (Hawick is referred to as this in many of
its her traditional songs). Rising from the centre of the Teviot River is a huge green arm, clutching a lance, bedecked with a flag (The flag is a Very Important part of Hawick history). The point of the lance features a Celtic triple-spiral motif. The arm itself strikes me as… androgynous. This image comes in the midst of the construction of the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme, which will protect the town from future flooding events. The town has flooded several times since 2005, so it’s broadly being welcomed by residents (as far as I can tell).
From just this glance, I think to myself, there must have been some grim humour involved in coming up with the concept for the sculpture. So similar is it to the ubiquitous flag-wielding statue in the centre of the town, the subtle differences are initially lost on me, and my thoughts go straight to that poster image for the film The Day After Tomorrow. Then I remember that it’s snow and ice drowning the Statue of Liberty, and maybe this poster for Disaster Movie (No I’ve not seen it) is a closer parallel.
Either way, if my thoughts go straight to a giant sunken, post-apocalyptic statue, won’t others? While I enjoy the dark humour, I’m not entirely sure the people whose homes and businesses were flooded between 2005 and 2019 will.
But that’s not the
best worst bit.
I read on, to learn more about the concept of the work, and how it will be part of The Hornshole Greenway Project, which also includes an “‘interpretive’ walkway” from Martins Bridge to Hornshole (That’s actually a great idea, as long as it’s, um, ‘interpreted’ as a walkway…).
The artist, who is proudly described as Hawick-born, Gordon Muir is quoted on the sculpture:
“Taking no prisoners, she’s essentially one of the Brythonic Celts who lived here in ancient times – a kind of Mother Nature with Attitude!“
“Needing some symbolism to support such a characterisation, the lance-head became the means of conveying that sense of her being armed with a significant weapon, while also suggesting something deft and womanly“
“The pre-celtic ‘triskele’ is… said to represent female power, femininity, motherhood, transition and growth. When combined with a graphic of the Teviot and her local tributaries, the fuller concept just all fell into place”
Now that’s a lot of talk about femininity.
I looked back over the article, after a curious thought about this supposedly very womanly and femme inspired piece, about deftness and motherhood, made by a man. I don’t have a particular problem with men making art about femininity really; but more I have a concern that it may not have been very thoroughly considered, especially when ‘deft’ and ‘womanly’ are equated; almost synonymised. I’ve met plenty of men whose movements are deft, and plenty of women whose aren’t; and I’m sure you have too.
Anyway, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I like to count things, so I did – to my (what feels like) inevitable disappointment:
Actual Human Men mentioned in the article:
1: “The Spokesman” – For the Hornshole Greenway Project – they don’t actually name him
2: Sir Walter Scott – Beloved Borders writer
3: Gordon Muir – The artist (I’ve just tried to look up Gordon on his Facebook page, but apparently Facebook and Instagram are broken! Hurrah! I mean, er, what? He doesn’t seem to have a website, or any other representation on the internet, which is a shame, I would like to read more about his work.)
4: Conor Price – Project Director, Hawick Flood Protection Scheme
5: Watson McAteer – Hawick’s Provost (essentially the mayor)
6: Alan Brydon – Historian
7: Ian Landles – Historian
8: Ian Lowes – Historian
9: Alastair Redpath – Historian
Actual Human Women mentioned in the article:
0: um, Mother Nature?
0: and, er, Hawick, I guess.
0: oh, and the Teviot too, apparently.
Please read my usual disclaimer on making assumptions of peoples gender, and do get in touch if I’ve got someone wrongly identified. Also note I weirdly couldn’t find the author of the article mentioned.
Oh come on Hawick Paper! Oh Come on Hawick! You can do better than this! We can do better than this! If the town of Hawick really is a woman, then the women of the town should be listened to, should be acknowledged, should be addressed as something more than mere concepts of characters that men attribute womanly values to. The women (because I’m sure they must be there, despite their invisibility in the local press) involved in these town projects must be heard and seen!
I just told my partner about this blog post, and I got a deadpan response of “There’s no women in Hawick”. He’s joking, of course, but if you only read the first two pages of the paper, you might not be so sure.
Commenters on Facebook (I loaded the page where someone shared the article before it went offline) are sensibly and insensibly querying things like funding, aesthetics and location, especially the irony that it could cause an obstruction in the river and cause more flooding.
This person has a valid point, although there are examples of non-Common Riding public artworks in town, including the Turning of the Bull by Angela Hunter (a gorgeous sculpture sadly placed in a carpark, albeit a nice carpark) and the artwork by Andrew Mackenzie that will be part of the flood defences themselves:
“Has it ever occurred that perhaps an artwork that isn’t related to the Common Riding might be interesting? It’s dominance over Hawick’s cultural heritage is highly disproportionate.”
And this person brings the discussion back to being about men – those ‘sons of heroes’ who I daren’t write much about without thorough research to back me up, but who are attributed with murdering/defeating a number of Englishmen and stealing their flag just over 500 years ago:
“Supposed to be a tribute to the “Sons of Heroes” who saved their town from English marauders but looks more like a gigantic prop from the movie,”Jason and the Argonauts” – Terrible!!!”
All in all, I think I am actually feeling kind of warm to the giant flag-wielding arm coming out of the river, despite the questionability of the concept and the nature of the press coverage. I like its silliness. I like its scale, and I like the ambition to make something ridiculously big, too. Hawick needs tourist draws the same as every other Borders town does.
Maybe, at the back end of town, a woman wielding a pointy stick is exactly what the town needs.
To read this week’s edition of The Hawick Paper go here
and if you’d like to read more about the Turning of the Bull, go here
to read more about Andrew Mackenzie’s work, go here
to read more about the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme go here
and to see the Hornshole Greenway’s info and a video mock-up of the sculpture go here