As part of its new strategy, the Guernsey Arts Commission is taking a significant, proactive approach to public art, trying to encourage the installation of sculptural art around the island, thus enriching Guernsey culturally, making our island a more appealing and diverse place to be for residents, and visitors alike.
Recent studies have demonstrated that public art creates a sense of attachment to community.
It is free. There are no tickets. People don’t have to dress up and it’s open to everyone, all of the time. There is also a great pleasure in stumbling across art in places where it’s not expected. The donkey statue in Market Square is a good example.
This particular project aims to install a life-size, bronze statue in town. The statue will depict a man on a bench. There are many such statues in cities and towns around the world with a steady stream of people having their photograph taken sat next to the man on the bench.
For the bench in Guernsey, it would seem that the obvious choice for the man on the bench should be Victor Hugo – novelist, poet, artist and dramatist.
Local artist, Mark Cook, who lectures at the College of Further Education, has created a design for the statue. Mark, an experienced sculptor, was responsible for creating the donkey and foal statue in Market Square.
When he heard about this latest project he immediately volunteered to design and create the statue at no cost to the Commission.
Rather than just sit Victor Hugo on a normal bench, Mark’s concept is for the statue to reference Hugo’s ‘Toilers of the Sea’; the novel written whilst he was in Hauteville House.
Written and published during Hugo’s exile in Guernsey, and dedicated to the Island, this story concerns a Guernseyman named Gilliatt – a social outcast who falls in love with Deruchette, the niece of a local ship-owner, Lethierry. When Lethierry’s ship, the Durande, is wrecked on the Roches Douvres, Deruchette promises to marry whoever can salvage the ship’s steam engine. Gilliatt eagerly volunteers, and the story follows his physical trials and tribulations, which include a battle with an octopus.
The bench will look as though it has been made from the timbers of the wrecked Durande and the backrest will be made from the tentacles of the octopus. Victor Hugo will have a copy of the book on his lap and he will be depicted looking wistfully across the harbour in the direction of France.
The length of the bench will allow for two people to sit on it, next to Victor.
Mark will make the statue in Guernsey using traditional methods, working in clay on a wood and wire armature. The finished model will then be taken to the foundry in Oxfordshire for casting in bronze. The total cost of transport and casting will be in the region of £75,000.
The GAC believes that this statue will be extremely popular, with local residents and tourists alike, and has the potential for becoming iconic for Guernsey and intrinsically connected to our island.
It is a poignant reminder of a great man, and somewhere for pilgrims to visit to honour France’s greatest writer.
The St Peter Port Constables are keen to support the concept of the statue and have agreed that it could be sited outside the Town Church, so that Victor Hugo can be portrayed looking across the harbour to his homeland, as he did from his ‘lookout’ in Hauteville House. This location will mean that the statue will be one of the first things seen by visiting cruise passengers coming from the Albert Pier and visiting yachtsmen from the harbour.
Seeing Victor Hugo on the bench may inspire and encourage them to return to the island to discover more.
“Je dédie ce livre au rocher d’hospitalité et de liberté, à ce coin de vieille terre normande où vit le noble petit peuple de la mer, à l’île de Guernesey, sévère et douce, mon asile actuel, mon tombeau probable.”
“I dedicate this book to the rock of hospitality and freedom, to that corner of the old Norman land, where the noble little people of the sea live, on the island of Guernsey, tough and gentle, my current asylum, my probable tomb.”
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Quoting: Man on a Bench
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