A contemporary gallery in London has sparked outrage among the environmentalist community with its latest show, containing a chunk of stone apparently taken from the tip of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
The Copperfield Gallery’s exhibition of work by Oscar Santillan, entitled ‘To Break a Silence into Smaller Silences’, due to open Wednesday, represents the first UK solo show of the Ecuadorian artist known for works exploring the ‘intrusion’ of man into the natural landscape. Yet the conceptual reasoning behind these works appears to have been rejected by some amongst the hiking and mountaineering community, who instead regard the ‘intrusion’ on Scafell as an act nothing short of vandalism.
The piece taken forms the work entitled ‘The Intruder’, and is itself no more than an inch in size; the gallery release stating that this signifies how “an entire nation’s height [is] modified and its landscape redefined by means of a single precise action.” Yet the release sparked a flurry of protest at the apparent vandalism of a key component of the Lake District National Park – and by association the English landscape itself – with some comparing the damage to the act of wantonly creating an oil slick.
Anger appeared to be directed not towards the perpetrator of the artwork, but more towards Copperfield for giving ‘The Intruder’ a platform, and was spearheaded by the climbing publication Outdoors Magic, who called on the gallery to atone for its “celebration of the vandalism of England’s highest peak” by donating to the charity Fix the Fells. Some have apparently complained to the National Trust.
The Copperfield Gallery has so far not responded to the furore. However points have been raised by observers from both the art and climbing communities that regard the minimal size of the rock as inconsequential. Some claim that with tectonic plates moving an inch is negligible in terms of mountains’ height, and others that, along with natural erosion and the damage caused by mountaineers regularly scaling Scafell, the rock may have come from a cairn: a manmade structure composed in addition to the mountain top, i.e. an existing piece of ‘vandalism’. There is even debate as to whether the uttermost height is actually measurable, such is its constantly changing terrain through natural erosion and the minute but innumerable alterations of climbers scrambling its heights. The figures calling for the boycott of this exhibition by the climbing world may have little impact however on the art-going public, who are arguably more receptive to the conceptual justifications outlined in the gallery’s brief.