If you’ve been in Norwich between June and August, you might have noticed the apparition of 53 brightly painted, life-sized gorillas…in fact, how could you fail to have noticed it?
The ‘GoGo Gorillas!’, to use their official title, formed an “outdoor art trail” organised by Break, a local young peoples’ charity, and an educational group, Wild in Art. The sculptures themselves – which bore names including ‘Bling Kong’, ‘Optimus Primate’, and (a personal favourite) ‘Bradley Wiggins’ – stood five feet tall, weighed half a tonne, and were modelled from glass-fibre. They were decorated by both professional and amateur artists, among them Phil Daniels, whose spookily accurate rendering of Alan Partridge in gorilla-form, ‘Alanrilla’, was unveiled at the premiere of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in August. Also exhibited was the work of local artists like Jenny Leonard and Daniel Hanton, who studied at the Norwich School of Art and Design. In addition to these, 67 ‘Baby Gorillas’ were contributed by local schools and community groups.
Each gorilla originated as a “blank canvas”, and all 53 sculptures reflect the personality of its artist. As well as ‘Alanrilla’, Phil Daniels has decorated ‘Mr Carrow’ – who wears a Norwich City football strip – and an accompanying gorilla-referee called ‘Gladstone’ which was positioned in The Forum. However, Daniels’ light-heartedness is made to feel flippant alongside works like ‘Besty: Here Today! Gone Tomorrow?’ by Kevin Farrow, or, more poignantly, Hannah Nelson’s ‘Killing Fields’: this features a patchwork-like design of empty fields, and “is about the relentless destruction of rainforests, mangroves and the clearing of natural land worldwide.” It was refreshing to see serious points being made in a project which slightly over-emphasized its intention to “excite and delight” its audience.
Despite the somewhat perplexing incongruity of gorillas and Norwich, the ‘GoGo Gorillas’ – which stood from 24 June to 7 September – offered an interesting alternative to the open-topped bus tour. Visitors to Norwich were encouraged to “find those Gorillas” in a specific order, from number one in Chapelfield Gardens, through to number 53 in The Forum, incorporating Norwich’s Market, its cathedrals, its Castle, and Carrow Road. Indeed, it is expected that the “legacy” of this exhibition, to borrow some Olympic jargon, will be to encourage future tourism by “showcase[ing] the creativity of Norwich, its heritage, architecture, regeneration and its prolific art scene”.
In 2008, Wild in Art, which helped to organise this summer’s ‘GoGo Gorillas’, introduced the ‘Go Elephants!’ to Norwich. This was a similar project, featuring 53 life-sized elephants which were later auctioned, raising £203,100 for CLIC Sargent and the Born Free Foundation. It will be hoped that a similar amount can be raised for the Born Free Foundation and Break when the ‘GoGo Gorillas’ are auctioned at The Forum in October.