The competition to find a new design for the rear facing wall of the Greyhound Pub is now over. Although I didn't count them individually I would estimate about 30 to 35 designs were submitted. These varied from the sort of image your child brings home from primary school for you to pin to the fridge with magnets until it falls off with the weight of splashed breakfast cereal, random tears and the sheer weight of wax crayon it carries, to some very competent and professional contenders that had been executed with a degree of finesse. In between was a slew of random. Swirling portraits of Lord knows who, pieces of clip art hopefully cut and pasted in position, and minimalist (read 'lazy') offerings of various assorted breeds. In short, the sort of mix you might expect. The brief to which this motley crew adressed temselves was fairly clear; to come up with a design that reflected the history and development of the site. With that in mind, a brief tour of the entries on show confirmed that at least 90% of the submissions had utterly overlooked that fundamental requirement. Should make the judging easy you'd think, and you'd be wrong.
The mysterious 'Judges' who blankly celebrate their anonymity for reasons that shall become clear shortly, included we are told , an "expert in public art". How one becomes so designated is a matter of some considerable incredulity. I know of no formal course of study that would support such an honorific, so it is almost certainly an honour bestowed on the mystery person by themselves, no doubt with the endorsement of their fellow mystery persons. To put this in perspective, I would judge that perhaps Anthoney Gormley is arguably the only person in England I might designate as an 'expert in public art', and there's the point - that such an honorific is for others to bestow, not for the self to claim, which probably explains why it made me squirm to read that such an 'expert' was involved.
Similarly keeping their identity - and hence qualifications for the job - under wraps was "a local shopkeeper". Clearly quite an impressive selection process going on behind the scenes before we even get started on the judging proper, but I have no doubt that a very competent, articulate and informed person was chosen by a fair and open lottery for this role from one of Sydenhams many and diverse shops, and it would be scurrilous to suggest that this unnamed person was perhaps a good friend of one of the other judges, also unnamed.
About the rest of the judging team information is even more scant, except that one of them works for Lewisham Council's Arts department, so some tip of the hat towards due process there at last.
After nearly a month on display at the Kirkdale Bookshop, a winner was announced. The winning entry is apparently a copy of an oil painting depicting a Greyhound, except the image has been rendered using lots of much smaller photographs as 'pixels', a technique which was very 'wow' in the early 1980's when it first appeard, but is now, well, very 80's. The selection of this image as the winner is difficult to fathom. It's problems are, collectively, astronomical. Consider:-
- 1. The image doesn't address much less meet the brief in any way. A Greyhound? That's it? This is unfortunate, and I imagine an insult to those entrants who perhaps hampered their design by actually addressing the brief. If the brief had said 'just do us a nice picture because that's what we really want' it would have created an even playing field and we would have seen many more interesting designs submitted. Moreover it would have been honest.
2. This design is touted to stand on site for 'hundreds' of years; so why start with something already stylistically so outdated and so backward looking as the 80's pixcel effect? They stopped giving that software away free on magazine covers in the 90's. Graphic design has moved on more than just a little in the last 40 years, so to tie the place to the 80's is bizarre to say the least.
3. The image the Greyhound is taken from is allegedly copyrighted. Copyright is a complex and oft misunderstood area. For example: people imagine that an old painting of this sort is 'out of copyright' - well yes and no. It wouldn't be the canvas itself that is the concern, it's photos taken from it that we must consider. The current owners of the painting ensure that no members of the public are allowed to take photo's, because the owners take the photo themselves to market the image - postcards, greetings cards, biscuit tin lids and so forth. If you have a picture of that Greyhound - rest assured - it's almost certainly not yours and it's unlikely to be public domain. Good luck with copyright clearance on that.
4. Even more interesting is the digital rights clearance surrounding the constituent photos that make up the image. They 'appear' to include images of people, possibly children. Again non experts have a deliciously simplified and profoundly mistaken idea of what the issues are. Here it's not only who owns the image i.e. who bought the film or who bought the memory card if the photography was digital, but who is featured in the image. Have they signed a release form? If the image contains a likeness of a minor special rules apply. Minimally you need a consent and release form signed by the parents or guardians. Again, good luck with that.
5. There are other issues too numerous to list in full, so I shall finish on the killer. For this type of image to work for the eye & brain, that is, to see the smaller images as making up the larger image (the Greyhound) you need to see the image in a particular way. In technical jargon, the image needs to subtend a visual angle of around 20 degrees of arc. In simplified terms, you need to be easily able to see the whole image at a glance, like when the image is a piece of paper one or two foot wide and about three feet away from you. Or when the image is the size of a house and about 70 feet away. Get any closer so the image starts to fill your visual field and all you can see is a sort of 'visual porrige' of photographs smeared together. You'd never know what it's supposed to depict because you cannot see the whole image from sufficient distance to reslve it. So how far away from the image will you actually be able to get? The furthest away from the back of the Woodman you'll be able to stand, that is the distance from the back wall of the Woodman to the front wall of the flats that surround it - is approximately 4 meters at the narrowest point, broadeningly slightly towards the eastern elevation. All anyone will ever be able to see is 'visual porrige'.