The first of December, 2010: Y, and I think

A steal, today, from my old schoolfriend and 3D whizkid Tom Painter, who happened upon Mark Wallinger’s sculpture ‘Y’ when prowling in the grounds of Oxford’s Magdalen College.

I quite like it. It was created in 2008 to mark the 550th anniversary of Magdalen. Wallinger is, of course, a Turner Prize winner, so it’s very important not to listen to anything he has to say, because the things he says might include things like this:

“The bifurcating forks or tines are like the branches of the College’s ancestral tree or the antlers of the College deer. The repeated figure references divining rods, typically cut from the trees found in Bat Willow Meadow, and the structure echoes the Gothic tracery, which is present within the architecture of the College. The forks represent the life force – the encoded mathematics of creation, the order of things – pushing out to the future, while the divining fork takes us back to our source, the earth. This reaching out and drawing back is implied in the map of a family tree, when we place ourselves as the trunk, when we surely know we are the furthest tiniest branch. In the sculpture each branch of the tree represents a progenitor going back seventeen generations to the year 1458, when the College was established.”

You see the danger? And here he is babbling in person.

Still, Magdalen has a good track record on this sort of thing. It’s home to Sir Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, which is a lovely looking building:

And it also commissioned Jacob Epstein’s deeply creepy Lazarus (creepy, but completely within the scriptural spirit: ‘And when thus he had spoken, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin.’ (John 11:43, 44) It would be a shame not to take this opportunity to quote Joyce: ‘Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job’ (Ulysses (1922))).

A final reflection on Wallinger’s ‘Y’: more than anything, it puts me in mind of this iconic doodle:

It’s the first known drawing of an evolutionary tree by Charles Darwin. Darwin sketched it out in July 1837, twenty-two years before the publication of On The Origin Of Species.

“Once Darwin started thinking seriously about evolution, he grasped its essentials with astonishing speed [explains the American Museum of Natural History]. Only a month or so elapsed between the time he opened the first full transmutation notebook, in about July 1837, and the time he drew a crude—but unmistakable—evolutionary tree. This drawing, with the most ancient forms at the bottom and their descendants branching off irregularly along the trunk, reveals that Darwin understood all plants and animals are related. Above his tree Darwin wrote firmly, ‘I think’.”

But then, Darwin was, of course, wrong. Tsk.

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4 responses to “The first of December, 2010: Y, and I think

  1. The Sheldonian isn’t in Magdalen. It’s next to the Bodleian Library on Broad St. I am fairly sure of this, having topped and tailed my Oxford “career” by having various bits of Latin said at me whilst inside it.

  2. Gah! Once again my redbrick education betrays me.

  3. All right, yes, it turns out I was wrong, as wrong as can be, as wrong, one might say, as a Darwin. Neither the Sheldonian nor Epstein’s ‘Lazarus’ has anything to do with Magdalen. I was misled by Magdalen’s unseemly riding on the art-commissioning coat-tails of other Oxford colleges. Apologies.

  4. No apologies necessary. I’m sorry that my first comment on your nice, new blog was a pedantic criticism.

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