Wallinger’s Stones

I like Mark Wallinger’s design for a huge horse at Ashford, but his Turner Prize bear impersonation was silly, and I’m not sure about his latest effort, for the Folkestone Triennial exhibition:

Mark Wallinger’s Folk Stones will be placed on the Leas and pays homage to the role played by Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance in the 1st World War. 19, 240 numbered beach pebbles represent the number of British fatalities on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

I’m all for people remembering the Somme, but what does a heap of pebbles tell us? We will think “What a lot, how sad.” but then what?

Folkestone already has an eloquent war memorial, with names of local men listed. A pattern of anonymous pebbles dehumanises the men. Names hint at personalities. You see names that seem typical of the locality. You find a surname that you recognize – a friend’s, or even your own. You see a pair of matching surnames and wonder whether they are brothers.

A pile of pebbles reduces men to things; at best they become merely abject victims.

Looking closer at Folkestone’s memorial we see this rather good relief of men going to war. These are not abject; they are going ahead with purpose; they are doing something that they consider worthwhile, even if we, with easy hindsight, may question its value.

Think again, Wallinger.

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