TCS Daily

A Fitting Memorial to Diana

By Josie Appleton - August 4, 2004 12:00 AM

Two of the judges on the committee for the Diana memorial have broken rank to say that they should never have picked Kathryn Gustafson's ring-shaped waterway. Architect Edward Jones and art critic Richard Cork have argued that the submission by Anish Kapoor was much better, and would have been an "extraordinary, world-class memorial" rather than just "splashing around in water."

This is the latest in a litany of problems faced by the memorial (nicknamed "the puddle"), which currently lies closed and empty in London's Hyde Park only three weeks after its opening. The rock was tricky to cut, the pumps got clogged, and paddlers injured themselves by falling over. But there is perhaps something fitting about all these technical hitches: the spirit behind the memorial is so flimsy that you would almost have expected it to fall apart.

The memorial is made up of sculpted granite channels in the shape of a ring: water flows from the start in opposite directions to meet in a pool on the other side. The granite is carved to vary the speed at which the water flows, which apparently represents Diana's different moods. Gustafson said that she wanted the memorial to represent the princess' "inclusive" personality, and encouraged people to "become part of" the memorial by paddling in its waters.

Diana's mother was hoping for something a bit more stately, and criticised the memorial's "lack of grandeur." But this is exactly the point, insisted head of the memorial panel Rosa Monckton: "I particularly didn't want to have a colossal fountain. Something that becomes a spectacle. I feel that so much of her life she was a spectacle and this circle of water is somewhere children can play and people can go in and out."

A memorial that is ever changing and inclusive, that doesn't really mean anything but kids can splash around in it...some might say that this was a fairly accurate way of remembering the late princess. But memorials normally lie, they make a weak man out to be strong and a dull person out to be interesting. Just look at Trafalgar Square, where the self-obsessed and philandering George IV is shown looking very noble on his horse. While past artists might have made something up, the maker of the Diana memorial showcases the fact that there wasn't much to her subject.

Given the vague ideas behind the £3.6 million memorial it's a wonder that anybody summoned up the substantial energy that it took to build it (which involved carting granite from a Cornish quarry to be cut by computer-controlled sawing and milling machines in County Down, Northern Ireland). Monument-builders have traditionally drawn their strength from the person or value that they imagined they were bashing out in rock. Gutzon Borglum, who spent 14 years toiling on his Mount Rushmore monument to American heroes, was driven by belief in the democratic ideal: "American history shall march along that skyline," he said. He saw his chiselling as re-enacting the creative, surging energy of the American pioneers. While Borglum had his pioneer values, the poor crafter of the Diana memorial could only say that "We had to shape the stone into intricate forms to resemble different moods in Diana's life."

So it is perhaps appropriate that, first of all, the original site for the Diana memorial was unsuitable because it was found to contain Roman ruins; and there were also more problems cutting the granite than had been expected. Only a day after the memorial opened on Wednesday 7 July, a thunderstorm hit Britain that blocked the fountain with leaves and flooded it over. The following Tuesday the pump blocked and the water ran dry. Algae began to build up on the memorial's sides, and the water started to accumulate dangerously high levels of bacteria (measuring at 840 times the acceptable level of contamination). Eventually on Thursday 22 the memorial was closed off, after two adults and a child were hospitalised after slipping on the sides. Apparently there are also problems with the grass around the fountain. A workman involved in the repairs was dubious about whether it would ever function: "It could take for ever to iron out all the fountain's problems," he said.

What the memorial lacks in poetry it at least makes up for in poetic justice.


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