Olympic project was almost scuppered by discovery of similar inflatable monument created two years previously

Two thousand people a day have come to frolic on Jeremy Deller’s latest artwork – a bouncy castle that is a precise replica of Stonehenge. Men, women, children: all leap, stride and somersault on Glasgow’s new favourite playground before it travels south to become one of the attractions of the London 2012 festival.

A neat idea, you might think. Sacrilege, as Deller has called his work, is not only a lot of fun (it is impossible not to smile when you shed your shoes, dignity, and understanding of gravity), but also thought-provoking.

The artist has transformed a great symbol of British history into a party. In real life, you cannot get near Stonehenge. Open to myriad interpretations and fantasies over its long history, it has now been given yet another existence through Deller’s impish version of a grand public sculpture

It turns out that Deller is not the first artist to have made an inflatable megalithic monument. In 2010, two years before Deller’s work was launched at the Glasgow International art festival, Jim Ricks, a California-born artist, Galway-based, unveiled his Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen – a precise, double-size replica of a megalithic table tomb built around 6,000 years ago in the Burren, Co Clare. The work toured various locations in Ireland last summer.

So is this a case of plagiarism? Or sheer coincidence? Are bouncy castles having what in fashion is known as a “moment”? Why, after several millennia of human creativity, have two inflatable megalithic monuments come along at once?

Deller became aware of Ricks’ sculpture, he said, while researching a manufacturer for Sacrilege. According to Ricks: “Jeremy contacted me in October and I didn’t think much of it … I didn’t register who it was.”

“I consider it an identical concept,” Ricks told the Guardian. “In terms of the description of the work, they are incredibly similar,” admitted Deller.

But Deller said that the idea for a bouncy Stonehenge had long pre-dated Ricks’s Dolmen. He had originally thought of submitting an idea for bouncy-castle versions of historic sites to an Arts Council England-run public-art competition in 2009, but was too busy at the time. Finally, he decided to realise the idea for Glasgow International, with the London mayor’s office as co-funders.

“The Olympics people got really nervous in case Jim decided to sue us,” said Deller.

Happily for them, he was not minded to. In fact Ricks forgot all about it, until: “I spoke to the manufacturer by chance about six weeks ago and it dawned on me, so I decided to go over to Glasgow. Part of me was like, ‘I’m ruined!’ It was the same idea done bigger and more visibly. But another part of me is delighted because Sacrilege is awesome, Jeremy was a cool down-to-earth guy, and it’s nice to know we’re on the same wavelength … in a ‘great minds think alike, fools seldom differ’ way.”

“You can be generous about it,” said Deller, “and realise that two people can have a very similar idea. It is, after all, a very simple idea.”

According to Ricks: “Jeremy is a lovely man, and I have no reason to doubt his story.”

Where the works differ, perhaps, is in the nuance. “Sacrilege is a way for people – not just kids – to enjoy a historical monument that is supposed to be revered,” said Deller. “It’s comedic, it’s absurd. It could be something you’d see in a satire on the Olympics or on art. I like to think of it as beyond parody.”

Ricks said that his sculpture had come out of observing the power of the Poulnabrone Dolmen as a regional and national symbol. He added: “At the height of the Celtic Tiger period, on every special occasion there seemed to be a bouncy castle around. Bouncy castles became a sort of vernacular monumental sculpture. So I decided to bring those two things together, and create a sort of hybrid version of Irish identity.”

The story of the megalithic bouncy castles is not yet at an end. Deller hopes that Sacrilege will travel to Northern Ireland as part of its Cultural Olympiad tour. If it does, he will invite Jim Ricks to bring his Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen over the border to visit. Let the bounce-off commence.

Full article in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2012/may/02/bouncy-stonehenge-glasgow?newsfeed=true

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