This week the Knife Angel departed our shores to move to the next town on the long tour to raise awareness of knife crime.
Even though it has left Aberystwyth, it is still ruminating in my thoughts. I first became aware of Alfie Bradley’s Knife Angel when three students and myself embarked upon an educational project under the banner of, ‘students as partners’, in late 2018. We had a frenzied and stimulating few months writing a Higher Education module called Figuratively Speaking. We were researching the development of the western interpretation of figurative sculpture. We divided the content between us, produced a scheme of work and designed activities and self-paced learning units around different themes. It was a very genuine collaboration, and we were acknowledged by the University and the University Association for Lifelong learning for this innovative way of approaching course development.
One unit was on angels and how they have been portrayed over the centuries. I do not want to give you chapter on verse on this unit, or the module, as you can take it as self-paced learning through Lifelong Learning; but needless to say, you are already probably thinking, ‘What about Gormley’s Angel of the North?’ When I wrote about Alfie Bradley’s piece for the course, the Knife Angel had just been created at the foundry in Oswestry. It was made from 100,000 confiscated and surrendered knives; many still bloody from the terrible crimes. It certainly piqued my curiosity.
I had seen photos of it in various locations and times of the day, but I was not prepared to be so bowled over by the location of choice that Aberystwyth had chosen, in Llys-y Brenin square. What a backdrop! The ochre colour of the museum, the blue skies behind and overseeing the area, in a niche above the square at the top of the Phillip’s Arcade, an insignificant sculpture of the former King Edward VII. It was so much more powerful than I had seen photos of it outside Coventry cathedral, for instance.
i was thrilled that Ceredigion had decided to receive the Angel, here in my hometown. This coincided with the start of my new walking guided tour, Past Presences. The agreement is that any town that hosts the Angel, agree to host 28 days of workshops and awareness of the real issue of knife crime. Brilliant. My talk did not replicate what the police were delivering, but my slant was to see this from the perspective of the sculptor.
How are commissions made? What compromises does a sculptor have to make? How do you transport it? Can you transport something that is five tonnes? How do you make it safe? How do you make it resistant to wind? Which way do the knife handles go? How do you make the head, the hair? How do you keep it balanced? I am not going to answer these, as you can work these out, I am sure.
I would like to touch on why it was received so well. The square has never been so busy, it started conversations, brought back memories, fears and tears. It piqued people’s curiosity,]; mixed generations stared at it and talked; what a wonderful sight. Some people felt it was ugly, but if a piece of sculpture can achieve all those emotions, it is doing its job.
Many said the angel looked demonic. Yes, it did, but was Alfie referencing ancient bronze cast sculptures with empty eyes that we can now see today in museums? The empty socket can look very demonic. Lifeless. Those ancient pieces initially had eyes made from crystalline (a type of rock) and were decorated. See the Riace Bronzes found in the sea in 1972 and thought to have been on a boat, sunk form a storm (460-450 BC). Look them up, they are incredible. The fact that there were no eyes in the sockets made him more forlorn, desperate. His oversized hand gesturing hopelessness.
However, when he arrived on the flat bed lorry on his back with a steel bracket protecting his raven like feathers, all made from handle less knives, this piece took on a completely different message for me. The hands were raised to heaven, almost pitiful and so vulnerable. He was transported from the flatbed lorry with the crane, cocooned in a bed of feathers, helpless until he was erect, it was such a poignant site.
And then when this piece met the sunset of Aberystwyth, this figure took on another guise, with golden hands like a precious ancient sculpture. A Midas figure. Wow, I was bowled over.
Alfie would like this piece to be displayed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar square, there was a petition of thousands of signatures to Sadiq Khan; I hope he manages it. However, London’s loss is the UK’s gain. The Knife Angel has now made his way to Birkenhead to spread his message to others and stimulate conversations around kitchen tables. Well done, Alfie, and a great insight, Clive, of Oswestry foundry.
Look up Alfie’s ‘Spoon Gorilla’ made from spoons sent by children from all over the world. This project was an idea suggested by Uri Geller. This piece tours children’s hospitals in the UK. Have you seen it?
I will be delivering other guided walks in Aberystwyth during the season. A Night in the Tiles – Mosaic Tour, Past Presences the sculpture tour. I am writing another tour called An Aberystwyth love story to launch at the end of the season. The walks are announced when I see pleasant weather on the long-term forecast. Walks are usually delivered on Fridays or Saturdays, but I can run a bespoke tours if you can gather six people together. £8 per head.