Sally Hackett: The Fountain of Youth
A brilliant and irreverent monument dedicated to youth
This article is from 2016.
There is something audacious about plonking an enormous birthday cake-shaped fountain slap-bang in the middle of the courtyard belonging to the Museum of Edinburgh. It's immediately obvious what the title of the work is: gaudy gold letters like birthday candles protrude from the 'cake's' baby-blue icing to proclaim 'The Fountain of Youth'. Against the backdrop of a historical building, with its grey stonework and austere relics from 16th-century Edinburgh, Sally Hackett's monument to youth is both brilliant and faintly ridiculous.
Each tier is lavishly decorated with ceramics glazed by children from Tollcross Primary School. Hackett's work often adopts a faux-naïve aesthetic, so contributions by children don't look out of place. Though the many head-shaped ceramics were clearly designed to contain the children's self-portraits, a large proportion seem to have diverged from the plan. Among the blobby faces are paintings of trees, trucks and people dancing. The best one is mostly blank with a tiny drawing of a cat floating in the middle.
Despite its apparent frivolity, The Fountain of Youth is supposed to draw our attention to more serious issues around representation and the veneration of youth. Edinburgh is a city stuffed with monuments in commemoration of (mostly deserving) older men, but women and young people are almost absent. However, it's hard to dwell too long on such matters in the presence of such a brazenly optimistic-looking fountain: it's much easier to watch its jets of water spit merrily over the tiers to hit disgruntled tourists in search of historical artefacts.
While hardly groundbreaking, The Fountain of Youth is a joyous and delightfully irreverent artwork. It seems to suggest that we ought to spend less time commemorating the dead and more time living in the moment: a sentiment no one can really dispute.
Museum of Edinburgh, Rear Courtyard, until 28 Aug, free.