4 horses and 100,000 balloons in London!

You don’t expect to 4 horses to appear in the river Thames nor to find 100,000 balloons in Covent Garden but then London is always coming up with the unexpected to keep us guessing.

Public art is one of London’s great strengths and my only complaint is that sometimes it is too short lived, it’s gone before we realise we need to rush to see it and I’m going to show you two perfect examples of this in today’s blog post.

The Totally Thames Festival lasted all of September and saw a range of events and exhibitions of all things Thames related. You could enjoy all manner of river races, Tall Ships, concerts inside the Tower of London and a night of poetry readings celebrating wild swimming!  It was the horses that really caught my attention. I read about 4 life-sized horse statues that had appeared on the foreshore at Vauxhall, a piece entitled The Rising Tide,  so I set off, at low tide, to find them and learn more.

Skirting around the outside of MI6, much loved of the Bond franchise and not at all secret, I took the slipway normally used by the Duck tours boats, down to the river. My timing was spot on as the Thames was at low tide so there was no danger of falling in and drowning – I’m not being dramatic, I just can’t swim! However, despite a helpful warning from the man guarding the slipway, I managed to step on the softer area of the foreshore and spent the rest of the day walking nonchalantly around London with one foot covered in grey mud!

One very muddy foot

Turning my attention back to the horses I was amazed at how powerful they were. The Rising Tide is a piece by Jason deCaires Taylor, an underwater sculptor.  The artist is known for his focus on conservation and climate change and these themes are clearly explored.

Each horse is a life-size shire horse with their wonderful large hooves and powerful bodies There are 4, a number that may be a nod to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Placing them within sight of Parliament seems to ask questions of lawmakers, questions which the sculptor feels they are ignoring, choosing instead to make damaging deals and compromising policies.

It was a delight to be able to wander around the horses and see them from all angles, to get so close you could touch them without guards telling you to keep away. Photographers, both the iPhone folk and those with tripods, were there in big numbers, taking away their own digital memories. A passing beachcomber was rather non-plussed by horses and crowds appearing on his regular patch but showed us a few pieces of metal he had found, including a very worn coin and a belt buckle which he dated as Victorian.

The head of the horses has been replaced by the head of an oil well pump giving them an eerie futuristic look.  Two of the horses have male figures, looking like businessmen or politician whereas the other two carry children giving us the contrast of those with responsibility for what is happening now and the hope for the future.

Horse with an oil well pump in place of a head

As the tide comes in the figures are submerged until the heads alone are above the waves and I would have loved to have seen this dramatic sight but after a month, the horses and their riders moved on and we are left with the fleeting memory of this wonderful work.

The thousands of shoppers who crowd into Covent Garden were treated to another short-lived art installation when balloons outnumbered people for just one month.

100,000 white balloons, each one of a different size, floated delicately under the Victorian roof of the South Hall. French artist Charles Petillon created a work called Heartbeat to delight and intrigue visitors. Pulses of light run through the balloons making the experience of viewing them rather hypnotic and symbolising the beating heart of the market, now and stretching back into its past.

I loved the fragility of the balloons that become almost solid in such numbers and how the light changed so much even in the hour that I was there. Each time I looked back at the roof I saw a different colour, a new shape, almost like watching clouds change and reform.

For those who like to know the behind the scenes info, the balloons were blown up by people, 25 of them who spent 5 nights and a lot of puff to make sure there were 100,000 perfectly filled balloon to form this work.

Now, both art installations have gone and we look forward to whatever comes next. London is full of surprises but sometimes you have to be quick or you miss them, passing moments in a city of such enduring history.

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