Saturday, August 14, 2010

We are not amused VII

Now that the dust has settled on the ECF's flagship event, and its attendant controversies, it is timely to check out some of its other initiatives: chess in schools and chess for youngsters is a good place to start, even if the free chess set plan appears, unfortunately, to have gone down the Swanee.

So we broach the vexed subject of how to engage young people in the game and ask, politely, whether it is prudent to give the oxygen of publicity to such goings on in Hastings as we found on the ECF website on July 19th, when some stunning artworks were showcased. They are created by locally based Leigh Dyer at Incurva Studios (and are helpfully installed adjacent to a large, and conventional, open air chess set).

Yep. Stunning. And surely they'll be popular with the kids.

But what do these works say about the Royal Game? Don't they give just an incy wincy bit of the wrong impression? Might not the younger generation be lead to think they may finish a contest by strangling the opposition with their conger eel? Or that castling is a clammy wrestle with a giant octopus?

This, then, is not entry level chess, it's basic Ichthyology; and we learn more about the up close and personal inclinations of such creatures of the deep than, say, the preference of the rook for the open file. We even get a hint of the dark side of the octopussy's habits: in treacherous latitudes they are wont to drag stately galleons down to Davy Jones's Locker.

By Pierre Dénys de Montfort in 1801.

Judging from his sonnet the "The Kraken", Alfred Lord Tennyson also took more than a passing interest. Apart from eulogising his eight-legged friends, the poem is noteworthy for its precocious use of some latter-day vernacular, for example "wondrous grot". Actually, and strictly speaking, he had another meaning in mind distinct from our modern understanding of that effluent term, namely hidey-holes for the "enormous polypi" referenced in the ninth line - but on reflection both phrases sound like the product of an excavation by some spotty youth of the danker crevices of his person; the sort of thing he might then charmlessly flick at the cat.

But getting back to those eye-catching artworks on the ECF website: the same artist continues his marine theme in some semi-abstract pieces shown off as below in coastal settings.

It is asking a lot of a sculpture to stand up to the immense horizons of a seascape. This piece goes with the grain of the setting by evoking the swooping and soaring of seabirds on the updraught, or the swirl of the tide against the rocks. Whatever you see, your eye runs over and around it as an arresting axis on which the panorama is pitched.

And in the back rows of some fishing village this quirky piece makes a joke of a familiar scene - also making a point about street-wise bike security (lock it or lose it - no laughing matter).

Lamppost with penny-farthing and brace of pheasants.

Which suggests that the ECF's featured sculptor may have, along with his bent of seriousness, a humourous angle, and one wonders whether, if we look for it, we might find a subversive gag in his chess pieces, something that perhaps the ECF, and the good folk of Hastings, haven't yet registered.

In fact it's just possible that in those works there's an allusion, perhaps unconscious, which if headlined in the local paper might cause some hurrumphing. Look again at the eel and octopus from a different point of view. It's all in the eye of the beholder of course, but aren't those creations - to confirm Reuben Fine's worst suspicions - more than a little, ahem, Priapic?

Spare maiden ladies their blushes! Shield the eyes of children! Phone the Council! Don't they realise that this is not chessplay, but foreplay? I'd say that cephalopod was from the same stable as the blissful pair enthusiastically sharing a lady's fantasy in Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife.

And you can see that for yourself, if you wish, here.

The ECF should be told, don't you agree?

Chess pics by Pam at Hastings Chess. Pics of Leigh Dyer artworks from Incurva Studios website. Reuben Fine "The Psychology of the Chess Player" (1956/1967) Dover, New York.

Chess in Art Index


Jonathan B said...

I like these very much - do I need to go for counselling?

I really like the Penny Farthing too.

Martin Smith said...

Anyone who "really likes" a penny-farthing needs counselling.

Tom Chivers said...

That octopus can play with my piece any day.