Flanagan cast his first hare in 1979 and exhibited a leaping hare at Documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982, introducing the animal to a global audience. The hare is indelibly associated with Flanagan’s career. The Leaping Hare, the 1972 book by George Eward Evans and David Thomson, was of fundamental importance to Flanagan’s adoption of the creature. An anthropological study of the hare, the book weaves together legends, mythologies, and superstitions from across the world, and gamekeepers and poachers’ anecdotes. Flanagan has said of the hare, ‘I find that the hare is a rich and expressive form that can carry the conventions of the cartoon and the attributes of the human into the animal world. So I use the hare as a vehicle to entertain. I abstract from the human figure, choosing the hare to behave as a human occasionally’ (Barry Flanagan, quoted in Enrique Juncosa, Barry Flanagan Sculpture 1965-2005, exh. cat., Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2006, p.65).
Flanagan’s Acrobats of 1981 particularly summons the hare as mischievous and playful, the anthropomorphic realisation of the human capacity for lightheartedness and frivolity. In their elaborate balancing act, the hares are poised in space, perfectly positioned in a fleeting pose captured permanently in bronze. Ten years previously, Flanagan had collaborated with the dance group Strider in London to choreograph two dance pieces, and movement, balance and dance or dance elements are ever present in his hares. Through those hares that delight in the joy of living, leaping and dancing, Flanagan harnesses the humour present in much of the work by his contemporaries in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Bruce McLean, Gilbert & George and Richard Long, presented in bronze. Mel Gooding has seen in the playful hare, the personification of ‘homo ludens, emblems of creativity and of mischievous disregard…for regulated order. (In this sense they are self-portraits, and very like, in fact.)’ (Mel Gooding, ‘First Catch Your Hare: An Essaying in Four Unequal Parts and a Coda, with a Salutation’ in Barry Flanagan Sculpture 1965-2005, op. cit., p.179). Anarchic, subversive, shape-shifting, transgressive and yet delightful and jubilant, the acrobatic hare does indeed seem remarkably familiar to Flanagan himself.
The present cast was included in Flanagan’s 1982 Venice Biennale exhibition representing Britain.
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