The glorious struggles of the people’s working-class rugby art sculpture
A year and a half ago we were offered a tantalising glimpse of the model of the Weta Workshop-designed Wellington rugby sculpture, noting its resemblance to a provincial junior rugby trophy, a knick-knack gift for a rugby-loving uncle, and a vagina.
And then finally the full-size sculpture appeared, tucked away in Jack Ilott Green, that little park on the corner of Harris Street and Jervois Quay, ready to prove to RWC visitors that Wellington cares about rugby 4 realz. What was the sculpture like up close? Was it as vaginal as the model suggested? An investigation was required.
After the jump – vaginas, zombies, glad hands, and best laid plans.
First of all, while it is less gashy than the model of 18 months ago, it is still rather vaginal. There’s no denying that there’s a massive crack running down the middle of it. I’m sure the designer has an official explanation of what the crack symbolises, but nonetheless, it still looks like a vagina.
But is this a bad thing? When the world of sculpture is traditionally full of phallic symbols, why not evoke female genitalia for a change? It helps soften the hardcore bloke-bloke-bloke vibe of the statue. Besides, a bunch of dudes running after a little egg? Yeah.
This is an odd part of the sculpture. It mixes quite a solid, 3D thigh with an almost flat thigh which in turn has a 3D hand on top of it. It’s like a film prop – designed to look good from a particular angle, but it doesn’t quite work up close.
This is also the most homoerotic part of the sculpture. Look at how close that thumb is to the bottom of flatman’s shorts. And flatman is colliding with the open groin of another player. Crikey!
Much has been made of the fact that the sculpture is in the style known as socialist realism, which had its origins in Soviet Russia and was most commonly seen in Communist countries.
With that in mind, the rugby sculpture could be seen as a type of propaganda. This is how New Zealand likes to see its rugby players – burly, hardworking men; team-players; working towards a common goal; the best in the world. There is no room in this sculpture for a bloke who’s been lured over to France to play for a capitalist pro team.
This sculpture represents the ideal, no matter how much of a gap there is between that and reality. And don’t you forget it.
When Weta do detail, they do it well. Check out the veins, the binding tape, the muscle bulges – and, hey, what’s that in top guy’s pants, eh?
Though it does kind of resemble a scene from a zombie movie. Hey, there’s an idea – Suzie the Zombie waitress sets her team of zombie rugby players on the All Blacks, and the boys in black have to fight them off In Time For The Rugby World Cup.
This is the worst part of the sculpture. See, it’s not just a rugby sculpture, it’s a Wellington rugby sculpture. And because this is art and art is symbolic, the Wellington location must be symbolised.
So how do we do that? With a miserable little cityscape, including the Beehive. And then you get to call it “site specific” because it’s about Wellington, and is located in Wellington.
The weird thing is, as Weta’s website explains, the Wellington location is already symbolised by the crashing waves along the bottom, indicating the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean coming together in Cook Strait.
It’s hard to tell, but it looks like the cityscape wasn’t even part of the original design. It’s like some manager looked at it and said, “Yeah, but we need something that says ‘Absolutely, positively Wellington!’ Why don’t you put the Beehive on it?”
For all the attention and detail put into the heaving, thrusting, sweating rugby players, it seems odd that Weta would, er, drop the ball on this detail. It looks like something that was tacked on near the end of the design, never developed beyond an initial sketch.
So there it is
The sculpture is there, to be seen by passing traffic and pedestrians. In June, the DomPost reported Richard Taylor as saying the sculpture “was designed so people could sit on it, and he hoped children would climb on its curves,” and indeed it has a very inviting shape. Except now when you visit it, this is what surrounds the sculpture: