Sacrilege! Here is a guide to some of the things you may not know about Stonehenge and Jeremy Deller’s touring “recreational bouncer”, as it’s known in the trade.
My headline was inspired by Mitch Benn’s must-hear song “Bouncy, bouncy druids”, so let’s start with that. Apparently he wrote it during the interval at Leeds City Varieties on April 19. According to jugglerjaf, he asked the audience for three news stories, and was given the issue of an elected Mayor for Leeds, the Bahrain Grand Prix controversy and Sacrilege (pitched as “Inflatable Stonehenge”). They all appear in the song, along with blow up sheep and foam rubber torches. Benn gave another performance on the Radio 4 Now Show on June 23 – more formal, but the recording’s better!
Sacrilege is a full scale Stonehenge bouncy castle created by Turner-prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller. It was launched in April 2012 at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, as a joint commission between the festival and the Mayor of London. It’s now touring the UK as part of London 2012 Festival, having started on June 21 at the National Botanic Garden in Carmarthenshire (see my earlier blogs here and here). It arrives in London at Central Park, Greenwich on July 21.
June 21 was midsummer day, so as is the tradition other Stonehenge events popped up: amongst those this year we saw a book launch (Mike Parker Pearson’s Stonehenge – “The midwinter solstice”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, was “a kind of neolithic Christmas”); a sort of Stonehenge made of cars by “self-taught artist Tommy Gun”, and set up in central London to promote a new fully recyclable Skoda; and the solstice party at Stonehenge itself (so wet, without a clock it was impossible to tell when the day began).
The bouncer was designed and made earlier this year in Bingham, Nottinghamshire. Deller and Inflatable World’s designer and MD, Paul Walkden, went undercover to examine Stonehenge from the inside (the project was carefully guarded in advance of the Glasgow launch). Walkden replicated the shapes and detailing of the standing sarsens in Nylon PVC, with the textures and lichens painted on by hand. It was damp and overcast when they were they, so the stones’ colours are grey and dark (in the sun they can be gloriously golden). It’s engineered to take 180 bouncers at once on a circular floor 40m across.
It has all the upright sarsens – the large stones that probably came from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles or so north of Stonehenge (the smaller Welsh bluestones and the fallen sarsens are not there). All the stones are easily recognisable: it’s a thought that while in Sacrilege they sway in the wind, and lean and wobble as people bounce around them, at Stonehenge they are almost all set in concrete.
Sacrilege is huge, but there is a smaller, remarkably similar bouncy castle that also went on tour – in Ireland. California-born artist Jim Ricks launched the Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen on August 8 2010. It’s a twice-scale replica of the megalithic portal tomb in the Burren, Co Clare. In the words of the Galway Advertiser, “The artist… combined an icon of ancient Ireland with an icon of contemporary Ireland, playfully re-presenting elements of Irish culture, often over-used commercially to attract tourism, in an accessible, witty, and visually arresting way.”
The concepts of bouncy dolmen and bouncy Stonehenge are so similar, you’d think there was a connection. Not so, apparently. Deller says he found out about the dolmen when researching how to make Sacrilege. Ricks saw Sacrilege in Glasgow, and the two artists got on well, and there is talk of the dolmen making an appearance when Sacrilege goes to Belfast.
Is Sacrilege sacrilegious? You might think so if you somehow imagine it is the real Stonehenge – bouncing up and down on a prehistoric cemetery might upset more than extreme Pagans. But it’s not, any more than Stonehenge itself is the site that existed four or five thousand years ago.
We take heritage seriously. We curate obsessively, we stage po-face re-enactments, we tell people they must participate and enjoy it. Sacrilege is huge fun – you don’t see a glum face anywhere near it, and of course kids love it. A good laugh strips away the undergrowth and allows us to see more clearly. It’s a focus, if you want it, for discussions about heritage values and meanings. And it’s an “engagement” project that works. You get to bounce around in the parts that most people never see in the real thing, if they see it at all, and it’s so huge and realistic that the curious are often going to want to know more. I asked a group of swaying primary school children in Marlborough, how old they thought the real thing was? We narrowed it down to between a million years and 30 years. Now, that’s a great start.