BLACK (cloud) WATCH: Slim pickings

News drifts in that the city council’s direct cash contribution to this temporary roofless shed cum public artwork in Victoria Park – ‘The Black Cloud‘ – comes in at around £15k.

Not much money then? Especially if you take the £15,000 cost and then divide it by the city’s population of 400,000. You actually end up with a cost of just under 4p per person.

But maybe there’s some other issues to consider here?

Firstly, there’s the small matter of where the money seems to have come from within the council. UWE’s Situations, who commissioned the shed, tell us it came from the Parks section, the Urban Design Unit and the Sustainable Development Unit.

None of whom usually provide grants to outside bodies, which begs the question of how on earth did UWE manage to access council cash from specialist city council service delivery sections when you or I apparently can’t?

It also begs the question – if the city council has various sections quietly sat on big lumps of cash for public art and any old officer-led specialist project they feel like – of why this money isn’t used first for democratically agreed popular public art projects?

Because on two occasions now, once on 11 October 2005 and again 1 April 2008, the Full Council – where our elected representatives are supposed to hold sway – has agreed motions to create a permanent monument to the Bristolian Second World War vet Field Marshall Bill Slim and his “Forgotten Army“.

In 2005 they all agreed:

a statue or other permanent memorial to Field Marshal William Joseph Slim, is long overdue in Bristol, the city of his birth.

Then back they came again in 2008 after nothing much had happened:

Council reaffirms its commitment to commemorate Field Marshall Lord Slim by the installation of a prominent and permanent memorial in the city.

And while they waited interminably for this fitting monument they also agreed:

that Council endorses the on-going process of installing a memorial plaque at the Cenotaph, in the centre of Bristol in recognition of those Bristolians who fought in the Fourteenth Army, and to which the Council is contributing £12,000

So that means more money has been quietly allocated by officers behind the scenes to a couple of “internationally acclaimed artists” no one’s ever heard of to build a temporary roofless shed in Victoria Park for no reason than has actually been spent on a fitting memorial to a Bristolian war hero and his men.

This is despite the constant demands that something significant be done by our democratically elected representatives, the increasingly pissed off Burma Star Association and the wider Bristolian public.

Now admittedly, at the last Full Council Meeting in 2008 councillors also agreed that they would make a further £58k available for this monument with these conditions:

that Council … offers its support for and contribution to any public subscription campaign organised by the local press to provide such a monument.

Unfortunately over 18 months on and there’s still no sign of this monument is there?

But why the hell are we sitting about endlessly waiting for public subscriptions to build this thing when it appears that various council managers are sat on substantial sums of money for just such purposes?

Isn’t it time our councillors found out how many of their managers have access to little £5k pots of cash for ‘art’ purposes they’re not telling anyone about? Then perhaps they should take our money back and use it for the one art project they and the rest of us in Bristol actually want.

And before the contemporary art crowd wafts on here sneering at soldiers and statues and telling us what a bunch of Daily Mail worshiping conservatives we all are compared to them, they might do well to find out a bit about Bill Slim.

Not only is he the kind of character that does the dirty work so that congenital idiots educated way beyond their abilities can ponce about in total freedom claiming any old shit is art, he also came to lead from a relatively modest background a victorious multicultural (before the word was invented) working class army who had nothing but respect for him.

In comparison to Slim and his men, your average publicly funded contemporary artist is a pointless wanker. Something this monument, if it ever arrives, will hopefully demonstrate.

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3 Responses to BLACK (cloud) WATCH: Slim pickings

  1. Archie says:

    Great Post Blogger,it seems BCC has a hard on for contemporary art,I think I remember seeing in the Evening Cancer that part of the planning approval to develop the memorial ground was £2,000 to be used to improve the transport network and £50,000 to be spent on public art projects!!

  2. Eugene Byrne says:

    Oooh! William Slim, one of my special subjects. I can’t comment on the merits or otherwise of the Art as I’ve not seen it, but Slim deserves his statue.

    If there’s any slowness on the part of council officers and elected members to respect the wishes of the Burma Star Association it may be bureaucratic inertia, or maybe they just don’t get Slim. Oh, he’s just some old imperialist war-monger, right?

    Wrong and wronger, but that’s at least open to debate. What is beyond dispute is that he was a brilliant and capable manager of people, a master strategist and a wizard of logistics and improvisation who tore up all the rule books.

    As a strategist he devised what the military now call “manoeuvre warfare”, meaning his campaigns are still studied in military colleges. But if you look at what he did in India and Burma in WW2 you can’t help but be struck by his abilities as boss of a large and diverse workforce.

    Slim took charge of an army that was disease-ridden, demoralised, defeated, terrified of the jungle and which thought the Japanese were supermen. Yet this army – not the Americans – working with very scarce material resources, inflicted on the Japanese their first defeat of the war on land.

    He took tens of thousands of men from different races who didn’t want to be there at all and united them successfully in a common purpose.

    There were working-class British conscripts who couldn’t understand what the hell they were doing in Burma in the first place, upper-class officers who wanted to be where the real action was (Europe and North Africa), and Indian troops who had no love of the British empire. He turned them into a genuinely multicultural force which respected its differences and won a string of brilliant victories.

    The unusual thing about Slim is that he was lower middle class, which in the British army, even in wartime, effectively made him one of the proles. Between the wars he served with the (Empire’s) Indian Army because he couldn’t afford the lifestyle of an officer in the British army proper. He supplemented his pay by writing detective stories.

    His class background and years in India were one of the secrets of his success. He identified with both working class Brits and with the various Indian races who served under him. ‘Uncle Bill’ is one of the few British generals in history who was actually loved by his men. His movement to another job at the war’s end, an appointment which was effectively a demotion, drove the army to the edge of mutiny, and he was quickly reinstated.

    He’s been sidelined by history for a number of reasons. It’s partly because he didn’t do PR. That bumptious clown Montgomery employed loads of PR people, as did Mountbatten, the “Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia”. Mountbatten claimed all the credit for Slim’s successes – Earl Mountbatten of Burma, remember? – a lie which successfully fooled everyone except Slim’s soldiers for decades. (Every fuck-up Mountbatten presided over resulted in a promotion which enabled him to get even more people killed, climaxing in the millions of deaths on the partition of India in 1947.)

    Slim stories:

    George Macdonald Fraser tells of how Slim was once addressing a group of men on the eve of battle. At the end of it, one shouted out, “We’ll follow you, General!” to which he smiled and replied “Don’t you believe it. I’ll be well behind you.” No other British commander could have got away with that, not least because they all knew he regularly appeared on the front line and nearly got killed on at least one occasion.

    Slim was invited to dinner with Churchill shortly before the 1945 general election. Churchill ventured the opinion that since he’d led the nation successfully through the war, the armed forces would vote Conservative. “Well Prime Minister,” said Slim. “I know that my men won’t be voting for you.”

    William Slim – great guy, great Bristolian. Statue please.

  3. thebristolblogger says:

    If there’s any slowness on the part of council officers and elected members to respect the wishes of the Burma Star Association it may be bureaucratic inertia, or maybe they just don’t get Slim. Oh, he’s just some old imperialist war-monger, right?

    Part of the answer seems to lie in Archie’s comment:

    BCC has a hard on for contemporary art

    Certainly Kate Brindley, the hurriedly departing head of museums came from a contemporary art background and is fleeing back there.

    Not least because of the utter mess she’s perpetrated in just 3 years in Bristol. The Museum of Bristol, basically a large contemporary gallery space is at least 50% over budget while there’s still nothing to put in it and there’s no long term revenue funding plan in place .

    Meanwhile Brindley’s museums staff are now in open mutiny against her and her Museum of Bristol plans that – despite denials – basically involve cutting their jobs to fund Brindley’s white elephant. Just last month eighty museums staff openly signed a letter (pdf) of condemnation to Bunter Eddy’s floundering Museums Select Committee.

    The other big contemporary art buff at BCC is Brindley’s boss Paul Barnett who employed her in the first place and employed uber-coolLab Architects – after a secret competition he apparently ran and judged – to rebuild the Industrial Museum into the Museum of Bristol.

    It’s really hard to understand why town hall bureaucrats like Brindley and Barnett push this contemporary art stuff so hard. While on a personal basis it might lend them worldliness, sophistication and intellectual gravitas; in the context of local authorities and their ‘equalities agenda’ it makes no sense. It’s basically elitist, inaccessible and without popular appeal.

    Besides don’t we give Arnolfini around £100k a year to do the contemporary art thing? Isn’t that enough?

    Indeed, you only need to take a look at Arnolfini over the last ten years to see what an artistic, commercial and popular failure high falutin’ contemporary art is.

    I agree. Cut the pretension. Statue of Slim please.

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