THEY cost £400,000 and took three years of planning by one of Britain’s leading sculptors, the National Galleries of Scotland and Edinburgh’s planning officials.
But three of the six cast-iron figures created by Antony Gormley for the Water of Leith in the capital have been AWOL for months – due to technical malfunctions.
The creator of the Angel of the North, on Tyneside, was commissioned five years ago to create a sculpture trail from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to Leith Docks.
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Galleries bosses have admitted that the three sculptures – at Dean Village, Powderhall and Bonnington – have been missing in action since as far back as August. The charity that promotes the river as a visitor attraction yesterday admitted it was “disappointed” at the length of time the Gormley statues had been missing, insisting they should have been back long before now.
Four of the six statues, which are fixed under the water, are fitted with a special pin mechanism that toppled them over to avoid them being damaged or blocking the river.
Three have had to be removed completely, now that water levels have dropped to a safe enough level for workers to access them, in a bid to rectify repeated problems with the tilting mechanisms of the statues, which are meant to pop them up again when the water pressure eases.
The other three – in the Water of Leith at Stockbridge, buried in the ground up to its chest outside the gallery and at the end of a ruined pier in Leith – are still in place. The city council had insisted on the tilting devices being attached to the statues so they did not become flood hazards by allowing debris to gather behind them.
Ironically, work on the long-delayed flood prevention scheme for the river, combined with bad weather over the last few months, has been blamed for the statues’ disappearance.
The six life-size figures created a huge stir when they were installed, with hundreds of visitors flocking to see them, and some of them even being decorated with clothes, including Y-fronts, a bikini and a woolly hat.
Within a few weeks two of them had been toppled for the first time by the strength of the river. The Bonnington and Powderhall statues have each been toppled three times each now.
A Galleries spokeswoman said: “We’ve had various engineering issues with these mechanisms and also with the mountings of the sculptures into the river bed.
“These problems have been exacerbated by bad weather over the winter and by changes in the river flow caused by the ongoing flood prevention works. Obviously our aim is to have them back in the water as soon as possible.”
The spokeswoman added that alternative locations were being considered, but the next step was to see if the tilting mechanisms could be repaired or replaced with a better device.
A spokeswoman for the city council insisted problems with the tilting mechanisms rather than flood prevention work – which has been ongoing between Bonnington and Stockbridge – were to blame.
She added: “We are fully aware of the issues regarding the Gormley statues and we are working with the National Galleries of Scotland to do what we can to strengthen them.”
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