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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Birthday Visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The weather forecast was brilliant sunshine and 0% chance of rain – which I took as I sign to spend the day outdoors before going for drinks and dinner with my friends. I hadn’t been to the YSP for quite a few years (probably because it’s an absolute pain to get to by public transport) but since my friend was staying – who has a car – it seemed like a good choice, especially since she had never been before.


We arranged to meet my Dad there, since he was coming from Shireoaks, where his boat is moored. Predictably, he arrived early and we arrived late. And as the YSP was super busy that day, we got directed into different car parks on opposite sides of the main complex. This was a massive pain when we attempted to find each other, not helped by my Dad walking in the opposite direction and changing the meeting point multiple times. After his failed attempt to locate the YSP Learning Centre where we were parked, we then attempted to locate his car. Unfortunately, the road I attempted to walk along had a massive barrier blocking the way, so we had to turn back and walk the other way. We then got stuck on the wrong side of a long wall, and had to turn back again – at which point, exasperated, I called him and we agreed to meet at the centre and he would take us to where his car was. This whole frustrating situation wasted a good 45 minutes. It somewhat pre-empted the rest of the day, which consisted of navigating an endless series of unnecessary barriers and locked gates with little to no signage or maps to tell you the “correct” designated routes. Anyway…

When we eventually got to my Dad’s car, he presented me with a beautiful bouquet of (cat-friendly) flowers which he had had specially made up so as not to kill the cats (most flowers are toxic to cats and both of my cats have a habit of nibbling at them – so it’s not a risk I can take) along with a helium filled balloon which Dad insisted I had to attach to my belt and walk around the YSP with all day. “No fucking way” was my response.

My favourite sculpture, ‘Buddha’ by Niki de Saint Phalle was actually very close to where me and my friend had parked. I have always liked her work, possibly because it is so colourful – most of the sculptures we saw throughout the day were monotone or monochrome – and I’ve always been drawn the shiny surfaces, textures and fragmented shapes of mosaics (I keep thinking about doing a mosaic course in Sheffield, but have never got round to it – maybe I will when I actually have a garden to put a mosaic sculpture in). I really want to visit her Tarot Garden in Tuscany – and I’m wondering if I can take a day trip there when I am in Rome in a few weeks.

The orange hot water bottle on legs was arguably one of the most striking sculptures, because of its monumental size and incoherence within the setting. I have absolutely not idea what this sculpture is conceptually about, however. There were numerous bags (a suitcase, a brief case and a handbag) on spindly running legs, which I could interpret as a comment on rampant consumerism and late-stage capitalism where everyone is rushing through life unintentionally acquiring stress related illness along with material wealth. But the hot water bottle – a cheap source of comfort and warmth – had me stumped.

Next to the legged objects, were a number of "suit" sculptures. I particularly enjoyed the larger-than-life rogue, pink suits, which were posed in a defiant dance. My Dad had showed up in a ‘Tories are Extremists’ t-shirt (thankfully the white lettering on the beige shirt made it less overtly legible since, judging by the cars parked at the YSP, a good proportion of the visitors are probably Tories), along with a pink, pin-striped suit-jacket which matched perfectly, so I instructed him to pose alongside the sculptures. It seems like many people have, as the mud patch between the sculptures indicates a “desire spot”. I was intrigued by the holes where the sculpture’s hands and head should have been – which allowed you to look inside the sculpture and see how it was constructed from the inside.

There were a lot of shiny metallic sculptures made from bulbous forms – including a number of “sausage” men. I wasn’t particularly impressed by these as they reminded me of Jeff Koons’ ubiquitous, yet infinitely tedious balloon dogs. My Dad remarked that they looked like they had a ‘strangulated prostrate’, to which my friend, who is a medical doctor, replied ‘It’s usually the prostrate which strangulates the urethra, the prostrate itself doesn’t become strangulated’. I really picked the best two people to wander round a sculpture park with, didn't I?

I particularly liked a collection of Neo-Classical bronze sculptures which looked like they had been eaten by moths and had shiny silver crystals growing out of the gaps. Again, I’m not sure what it meant (I’m not very good at interpreting sculptures) but it looked very cool.

We found a collection of twelve ‘Chinese Zodiac’ sculptures which depicted the heads of the twelve animals. Despite all the sculptures being made from the same materials, I remarked how the execution seemed inconsistent across the different animals. Nonetheless, it seemed to be a popular sculpture. We took an obligatory photo standing under our Zodiac signs, my friend who was born in 1993 (the year of the Rooster), whilst I was born in 1994 (the year of the dog).

I also made a photo of Alba under the dog, it took a while and some coaxing, but I got her to pose in the perfect position - tongue lolling out.

My Dad, who has a bad hip waited for us in a café whilst we went on the long walk to the Longside Gallery (which turned out to be closed) and managed to get lost along the way due to the lack of signage. We managed to get back to the designated route eventually, after walking through a private field and scrambling over a ditch full of brambles and narrowly avoiding an encounter with some very angry, and sharply-horned cows.

We had to stop every so often, because my friend spotted a shard of pottery sticking out of the ground, which she digs out and collects or turns into mosaics. She found one piece which had some kind of castle / church yard arch printed on it.

She also picked up a sickly bee, which she carried until we found some daffodils to deposit it in - to provide "palliative care". It seemed unlikely that the bee would survive much longer – her parting words were ‘Rest in Pollen, little bee’. I felt bad about the bee which we left stranded in a dark tube station in London - it can't have come to a pleasant end.

I quite liked the giant, contemplating man which seemed well located on a hill, looking out over a majestic Yorkshire, countryside view.

As we were leaving, we past a sculpture which had the words ‘NOTHING SPECIAL HAPPENED’ – which seems like an appropriate moment to head back home.

Unfortunately the day ended in tears, when my friend's mum who was looking after her cat had called to say it had accidentally got out and gone missing. My friend was distraught and ended up going back to my flat on her own and missing the dinner with my other friends - I didn't know what else to do, other than give her my keys, reassure her the cat would come back in its own time and hug her until the Uber arrived. She had already drunk two glasses of wine so couldn't drive back to Leicester until the morning. I had to go and sit in the toilet for a bit after that and collect myself before returning to the party - I don't know why I was crying - it wasn't even my bloody cat!

I stayed for as long as was reasonable before heading home to keep my friend company. She left at 5am and drove back to Leicester (where her mum lives) - I received another message at 7:30am with a photo of the cat - indoors! Why is there so much bloody drama all of the bloody time?!

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