“It’s a bit weird and random,” says Michael Mclaughlan, 50, bopping gently up and down in the middle of the giant inflatable Stonehenge that has sprung up on Glasgow Green. “They should get Alex Salmond down here to bounce about.”
Around him, children and adults are discarding their shoes and climbing tentatively on to the grandest of bouncy castles, a large-scale interactive work by the Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller. Titled Sacrilege, it’s Deller’s first major public project in Scotland and a centrepiece of the Glasgow international festival of visual art which launched on Friday.
“It’s something for people to interact with, it’s a big public sculpture,” says Deller, who was on hand for the project’s launch. “It is also a way of interacting with history and archaeology and culture in a wider sense.
“We had 112 kids bouncing on it this morning. It’s a very entry-level way into thinking about ancient history for five-year-olds. It’s good to play with our history and culture. Stonehenge is part of British identity but no one knows what it was for.”
Deller doesn’t think Scots will care that Stonehenge is a classic British – if not English – icon.
“It’s about tribes. It’s not about politics. It’s pre-political, literally. It’s great doing it in Glasgow. This is a city where you can get things done as an artist.”
The GI festival, which runs until 7 May, will showcase the work of more than 130 artists across a variety of venues. Highlights include the Turner prize nominee Karla Black, who will be exhibiting a series of major new sculptures at the city’s Gallery of Modern Art, and the artist and choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis, who will give the Scottish premiere of a new performance work for stage at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA).
“For the past two decades, Glasgow has been the home of some of the very best new talent in contemporary visual art,” said Sarah Munro, the festival chair. “The city is ambitious in its determination to support artists working at the cutting edge today.”
Sacrilege will be at Glasgow Green for the 18 days of the festival before being shipped to other destinations across the UK and finally to London for the Olympic Games.
The installation is deflated at 6pm every night and re-inflated in minutes the following morning. Project manager James Hutchinson said it had caught the imagination of Glaswegians.
“I think it would take a mean heart not to smile as you are passing by,” he said. “People have been wanting to get on and we have had all ages from seven to 70. Nobody knows what Stonehenge is for. It doesn’t belong to anybody. Not the Druids or those interested in British or English history or Glaswegians.”
“We come to the green a lot and I was surprised to see it and wondered what it was, but I think it’s great,” says Robert Barnes, 72, who lives locally. “My grandson’s been playing on it and I can’t get him off.”