The best of moonicipal art

Cow Parade

Across Edinburgh, 15 May until 23.

IF YOU'RE READING THIS IN EDINBURGH, A word of warning. At some point on Monday morning you might come face to face with a brightly coloured fibreglass cow. Then, later in the day, you might see another. And another. Do not be alarmed. You are not losing your mind. You have simply walked into the middle of the largest public art event in the world.

Since it started in 1998 in Zurich, Cow Parade has appeared in cities across the world, from New York to Tokyo, Prague to Sao Paulo. More than 3,000 bovines, designed by artists, celebrities and community groups, have grazed around the world's most famous landmarks, before being auctioned for charity.

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Under cover of darkness on Sunday night, 94 cows will take up their stations at Edinburgh landmarks, as well as some more "unmoosual" spots. The skeletal Night Moo on Blair Street will glow in the dark. Cow For The Castle has the city's famous skyline on her side, while a specially modelled Bravemoo stands on her hind legs and wears her kilt in the manner of William Wallace.

"Never before has Edinburgh seen such a sight," says gallery director Richard Demarco. "I think it's great that you don't have to build a multi-million-pound new gallery to house what is in fact an extremely large-scale city-transforming exhibition. I'm going to enjoy them while they're here, I recognise a life-enhancing exhibition when I see one."

For the idea of the cow as art object, we must thank Zurich window-dresser Walter Knapp, who came up with the concept of a fibreglass herd to boost retail in the city. His artist son Pascal was tasked with designing a "unique three-dimensional canvas" for artists which was, well, cow-shaped. His three cow designs - standing, reclining and grazing - are now mass-produced by a Polish factory to meet Cow Parade demands around the world.

The Zurich cows brought visitors to the city in droves. The following year, Cows on Parade was unveiled in Chicago, where it was proclaimed the most successful public art exhibition in the history of the city. Now, Cow Parade is a private limited company which has milked its idea to perfection, rationing it to several cities a year in order to retain its cachet (this year is the turn of Edinburgh, Lisbon, Paris, Budapest and Boston). Businesses pay up to 5,000 to sponsor a cow, though there is a reduced rate for "commoonity" groups. Matthew Williamson, David Lynch and Vivienne Westwood are among those who have created cow designs.

While the show is free, the retail and service sectors reap the benefits in spades. Then, instead of puzzling over what to do with hundreds of lifesize fibreglass cows which aren't a novelty any more, Cow Parade auctions them for charity. In Edinburgh 70 per cent of proceeds will be divided between the OneCity Trust, which tackles social exclusion, and VetAid, which works to alleviate poverty by sustainable farming in developing countries.

For the artists involved, designing a cow is a process of negotiation with the sponsor, who generally wants their animal to reflect the theme of their business. Logos and brands are not allowed. Bad puns involving bovine vocabulary, however, are actively encouraged.

Edinburgh artist Clare Waddle has designed An Udder Cowch for the Omni centre, a careful fusion of her own playfully kitsch artistic ideas and the needs of the sponsor. The cow, one of very few reclining cows in Edinburgh, reflects the centre's desire to promote itself as a "home from home" with a built-in couch and standard lamp.

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"When I submitted my designs I was working on an exhibition for the Amber Roome Gallery [on until May 18] and I was interested to see if I could take some of the concepts I'd been working with for the last year into the cow. I presented drawings to the Omni Centre and we came to an agreement. I took their needs into consideration from the start, and they liked what I did."

Keith Thomson, a mature student at Edinburgh College of Art, designed Mooles on the Waterfront, a cow sponsored by the Waterfront Bar and Seafood Restaurant where he works. Mooles' Friesian colouring is created by patches of real mussel shells attached to her hide. He says that Cow Parade is an opportunity for an artist like himself, who is about to graduate in sculpture. "It's important to get out there and learn about professional practice. Also, this is quite a high-profile event.

"Hopefully when I'm looking for future projects, one or two people will remember the cow.

"Some people might be quite precious and say it's not their thing, I see it as buying time. The money I've made from designing the cow has allowed me to leave work a few weeks early and concentrate on my degree show."

One thing's for certain, normally straightlaced Edinburgh is in for a shock when the hooves hit the streets. "I think it might suggest that the spirit of Calvinism is on the wane," chuckles Demarco. "I do think John Knox would be turning in his grave."

But as well as bringing people and art together, he believes it's a great antidote to the over-seriousness of some contemporary art. "I like to see a modern art exhibition with its tongue in its cheek, and all these cows have their tongues in their cheeks. It's the answer to these ponderous, inward-looking, angst-ridden manifestations of modern art that most young artists seem to be favouring."

While the success of the idea has led to spin-offs using other animals - whales in Connecticut, pigs in Cincinnati, lizards in Orlando, moose in Toronto, bears in Berlin - the cow continues to reign supreme.

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"There is something loveable about a cow," says Demarco. "A kind of motherly touch. They are a symbol of civilisation. Thank goodness we don't have 94 bulls - that would have been quite a different thing."

• For more information, pick up a trail map from city - centre retailers or tourist information, or visit

No Mean City

Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, 18 May until 3 June

WHEN No Mean City was first published in 1935, it divided public opinion down the middle. Some, including a few leading London reviewers, saw this breakthrough novel about the violent criminal underworld of the Glasgow slums - co-written by unemployed Glaswegian Alexander McArthur and London journalist H Kingsley Long - as a hard-hitting masterpiece, a rare combination of social document and powerful fiction. Many in Glasgow, though, feared the damage it would do to the city's image and most local libraries and bookshops refused to stock it until well after the Second World War.

Now, No Mean City is to be revived on stage at the Citizens' Theatre, as part of a Gorbals Voices season based on the life and history of the area around the theatre (18 May until 3 June, see for details). The Citizens' boss Jeremy Raison will direct the 1990 stage version of the novel, first created for 7:84 Scotland by Alex Norton, now best known as DCI Burke in ITV's Taggart. The story's razor-wielding anti-hero Johnny Stark will be played by Andrew Clark, who recently starred in the smash-hit Grid Iron shows The Devil's Larder and Roam. Meanwhile, the debate about the portrayal of Glasgow as a city of violence rumbles on; so much so that the title Long and McArthur chose for their book 70 years ago still resonates, featuring in Maggie Bell's vocal version of the Taggart theme. JM

Tel: 0141-429 0022 or visit

The Da Vinci Code

Cinemas nationwide from 19 May

IT'S here! At last, you can indulge in the guilty pleasure that is Dan Brown's enjoyably absurd conspiracy thriller without having to wade through his terrible writing. Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, the fortysomething academic whose captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low baritone speaking voice which his female students describe as chocolate for the ears (elsewhere, ironically, he's described as "Harrison Ford in Harris tweed", which will presumably be updated to "Tom Hanks in Harris tweed" for the book's film tie-in edition). Audrey Tautou is Sophie Neveu, the attractive young cryptologist with a healthy but unembellished beauty and genuineness that radiates a striking personal confidence. (That's the plucky gel being menaced by evil Paul Bettany, below.) Together they embark on a rollercoaster international adventure, from Paris to Rosslyn Chapel, battling the dark forces of the international Catholic conspiracy along the way. What fun! AE

Andalusian Images of Carmina Burana

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 16-20 May

THOSE who saw La Cuadra de Sevilla's re-working of Bizet's Carmen in 2002 will remember the rhythmic hooves of two dashing white stallions. Well they're back, stomping in time with the live Spanish guitar in this flamenco take on Carl Orff's choral masterpiece, and winding their way through four female flamenco dancers. The real star of the show, though, is Lalo Tejada, a stunning flamenco dancer who takes on the persona of Carmina. As with Carmen, Tejada plays a powerful woman whose relationship with men leads to her demise.

Orff's original score for Carmina Burana was inspired by medieval poems filled with drunken debauchery. In La Cuadra De Sevilla's version, much of this debauchery is directed at the heroine, as lust-filled dwarves, dressed in hooded robes and clutching tankards, strip Carmina of her clothes and dignity. As Carmina's persecution reaches its peak, a giant crucifix is lowered on to the stage. Wearing a crown of thorns, she is tied fast while the monks dance in full revelry below, the cross looming high above their heads.

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"It's really a metaphor," explains Lilyane Drillon, the company's executive director. "Because in many cultures, not only Catholic, women are crucified, they are treated as inferior. Lalo is a very strong person and she accepted the challenge. It's very gratifying to work with her because she understands the meaning of the show. Most flamenco dancers don't want the complication, and not many of them will accept being crucified." KA

Tel: 0131-529 6000

Big Big Country

Various venues, Glasgow, 16-27 May

ANOTHER year, another intriguing smorgasbord of Americana, lovingly selected by the ever-enthusiastic Billy Kelly. The festival begins on Tuesday, with an evening in the company of the Willy Clay Band. Billed as "Sweden's coolest export since Greta Garbo", these five northern cowboys are reportedly in possession of the tightest vocal harmonies and hottest lap steel guitar licks north of the Arctic Circle. Then, on Wednesday, brace yourselves for what will surely be a festival highlight: an audience with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the man Bob Dylan described as "the King of the Folksingers" in his recent book, Chronicles.

Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb will perform with the Voices of Praise Gospel Choir on Thursday. And keep your eyes peeled for a couple of legends-in-the-making: singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham, who plays on 20 May, and honky-tonk hero Jesse Dayton, who plays on 24 May. RC

Tel: 0141-552 4267 (Tron) or 0870 240 7528 (all other shows) or visit

Kate Downie: New Work

Watermill Gallery, Aberfeldy, 13 May until 25 June

KATE Downie's work explores and celebrates manmade structures within the natural environment, most famously the Forth Bridge, the subject of a major show at the Talbot Rice Gallery in 1999. The bridge is back in her new show - her first in Scotland for four years - along with telegraph poles, mobile phone masts and gas towers. And what better location for it than a former industrial space: the watermill in Aberfeldy recently converted by Kevin and Jayne Ramage into a gallery and bookshop. Downie is a passionate and gifted draftsman (she was shortlisted for last year's Jerwood Drawing Prize) who doesn't let a rainy day get between her and her work - and neither should you. SM

Perth Festival

Various venues

FOR years now, the Perth Festival has followed the same, very popular recipe: a core of broad-appeal classical music, opera and ballet; one or two radio friendly unit-shifters flying the flag for contemporary music; and a dash of gentle comedy for good measure. The formula ain't broke, so this year it remains largely unchanged. Van Morrison plays the opening concert on 18 May, and the classical music programme includes recitals by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, as well as concerts by the Palladian Ensemble and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. There are to be two productions from English Touring Opera - Puccini's Tosca and Jancek's Jenufa - as well as a production of Swan Lake from Ballet Russe and comedy from Karen Dunbar and Barry Cryer.

The winds of change are starting to blow in Perth, however. With the new Perth Concert Hall complex exposing the Fair City's denizens to the cutting edge of the arts like never before, it's surely only a matter of time before the festival organisers start to reassess the way they programme the event. Traditionalists - buy your tickets now. RC

Tel: 0845 612 6330 or visit

• Words by Roger Cox, Joyce McMillan, Kelly Apter, Susan Mansfield and Andrew Eaton

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