So the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill has a coach on top of it. It is teetering on the edge of the roof, intermittently it cranks forward as if it’s about to tip over and fall off, except you know it won’t because you can see that there is a whacking great girder stopping it doing so and you don’t doubt the Health and Safety brigade has crawled all over it. I’m not knocking that; if it were to fall, it would crash into the car park three stories below. I might be there.
The work by British artist Richard Wilson is called” Hang on a minute lads I’ve got a great idea..” The words are the final line spoken by Michael Caine in the 1969 film the Italian Job; as he and his band of bullion robber mates are trapped in a coach hanging on the edge of a cliff face.
Wilson has explained that he came to the idea because when he was looking out from the Pavillion; he realised it was all about how the sea met the sky and so about the edge; that got him thinking how the coach in the film epitomized the edge and that was how the idea was born.
However teetering things have been somewhat fashionable recently. Over on the South Bank on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall there is a houseboat, Le Roi des Belges, which has its bows hanging in space.
Designed by architect David Kohn and artist Fiona Banner, it was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which is set on the Thames and in the Congo. It doesn’t move about but it has a bit of edge, you might say, on the De La Warr coach as people are able to sleep on it – well some people – a few lucky artists were invited to stay in what must be the best bedsit in London plus a handful of members of the public who were acute enough to find out about it before it was sold out back in January.
So if you are not already one of them it’s too late; it’s due to be moved somewhere else as the end of the year. Still, if staying in a teetering thing floats your boat there is still a chance to do so. Living Architecture, the company which organised the Roi des Belges, still has vacancies in Balancing Barn in Suffolk which is also gravity defying.
But if the finely balanced is so 2012, unusual things on roofs have a longer history. Anthony Gormley had 31 sculptures on London buildings in 2007. The De La Warr itself also had its Gormleys, though unlike the London ones they were lying down, this time on the roof terrace.
The best roof sculpture of all to my mind is still the Headington Shark. Commissioned by Bill Heine, it is more than 25 years since it appeared overnight in a suburban street in Oxford, but it still knocks spots off the rest: it doesn’t need to move; the movement is implied in the angle which looks unsustainable.
Apparently back in 1986, Oxford council wanted to close it down on health and safety grounds but when engineers inspected the roof, they found girders that had been specially installed to support it and pronounced it safe. That is the difference between the Headington shark and the De La Warr coach; the shark looks as if you see it at the point it has crash landed on the roof and you cannot see the structure which keeps it in place.
All the same in these wet summer days, things on roofs help cheer the place up; I’m all for it. The coach managed to get a trickle of Bexhill residents to come and see it in the rain. So I think other artists should be encouraged to decorate roofs; the Shard I feel needs a giant squid, curling its tentacles around those four spikes; how about a submarine on the walkway on top of Tower Bridge? Most of all I want to see a Paul McCarthey on top of the Barclays Bank building in Canary Wharf. You know the one I mean, Complex Shit. It would be a perfect conceptual fit. It could even jut over the edge.