Quantum Leap Takes Off
Long awaited, delayed by difficulties, still standing in a bare building-site rather than the Geo Garden that will eventually surround it: Shrewsbury’s controversial Quantum Leap, the Charles Dawin Bicentenary Memorial sculpture, was officially inaugurated on Thursday the 8th of October, 2009. The area in front of the statue was jam-packed with people, the crowd spilling along the narrow footpath of the Smithfield Road almost to the Welsh Bridge. The late afternoon sun shone kindly on the warm-grey concrete of the curving, twisting structure. Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, made the inaugural speech on behalf of the Darwin family. Finally a brass ensemble from Shrewsbury School played a fine fanfare, composed for the occasion by Ben Powell Davies, a student at the school.
Quantum Leap has been beset with problems. There were several unforseen difficulties with the site, and the original construction, built up from two sides, failed to meet correctly in the middle, needing to be partly dismantled and corrected. We don’t expect professional constructors to get things like this wrong, but Quantum Leap was a novel and daring project, almost an experiment in construction science. (Here’s my piece on the early stages of the construction.) And in the end, they got it right. I’m less happy about the thick concrete bases that have been added to the structure, particularly the one on the river side of the arch. Necessary, perhaps, but the bulky lumps anchor the piece rather too firmly to the ground: less an idea leaping into the air, more something struggling to escape. Maybe that is more symbolic of Darwin than we might think? His own doubts about how his thoughts and researches would be received, and the effect this would have on his family, held back the publication of The Origin of Species for many years.
To digress only slightly, I went to see the film Creation on Friday. It’s beautifully acted throughout, with the high standards of production one expects from BBC period drama, but Creation is more a film of a battle with emotion, doubts, ill-health and anguish than of science. I cried quite a lot. It’s worth seeing, but do take plenty of tissues and don’t expect to learn much about Darwin’s work beyond the most obvious.
The film is based on the book Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes, who dedicated the Quantum Leap sculpture yesterday. Darwin worried that his ideas would be misunderstood, cause anger and and a storm of criticism he did not want to face. Quantum Leap has already attracted a fair amount of criticism, but we should give it time to mature — to be finished and then to mellow into its setting between the trees in the garden-to-be on the riverbank. I fancy that Shrewsbury will come first to accept and then to delight in its bold, curving, twisting shapes against the sky, once it has found its place among us.
(And of course people are worried that it will become a ‘Saturday-night climbing frame’ for young drunks, who will then fall into the river and drown or kill themselves by landing on stone. I must admit to thinking that anyone so doing might provide an excellent example of evolutionary principles in action.)
Give Quantum Leap and the Geo Garden by the river time to settle and to mature, and I think we will have something that Shrewsbury can be very proud of. Even when still surrounded by concrete dust and metal bariers, it makes a fine sight against the sky.