Dancing Tree? Phoenix Rising? Or the Spirit of Belfast?

In June this year the Social Development minister announced that “local people will have an opportunity to vote for a new centrepiece for Arthur Square”. Today the short-listed concepts were announced, and the voting system, which was the topic of some discussion previously, unveiled. You can view some images of the three choices here.. as selected by a Panel made up from representatives from the following organisations: Department for Social Development, Belfast City Council, Planning Service, MDUK (Victoria Square developers), EDAW; (Belfast Streets Ahead design team), Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Arts Council NI, and Royal Society of Ulster Architects. And you can vote online or by visiting the public exhibition at the Lagan Lookout. I’ve added those images below. Personally, I’m not particularly taken by any of them.. but then I didn’t see the long-list.
The three shortlisted concepts are

“Dancing Tree”

“Phoenix Rising”

or the “Spirit of Belfast”

If forced to make a choice.. I’d probably go for the “Dancing Tree”.. reluctantly..

And from the ministerial statement

4. A budget of £200,000 has been allocated for the sculptural piece for Arthur Square.

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  • Stamper

    The dancing tree is too wee.

    Spirit of Belfast would at least look nice at night.

    Although I think a 40ft statue of the Minister would be better.

  • Phil

    “or give occasion to play.”

    Arty -> English translation

    During the day annoying feral children will congregate here. Whilst at night people will drink floor polish and pass out/urinate here.

  • susan

    Pete, I am mildly surprised to see you get behind, albeit reluctantly, a scheme that even in the artist’s rendering features large blocks made of unknown material poised to rain down on Joe Q. Public’s upturned head every time the wind blows. I don’t know you, but it seems out of character. :o)

    Too bad the Spirit of Belfast couldn’t incorporate some sort of a mist or sprinkler effect (preferably the non-elecutory sort) for children and nubile young people to run through on the occasional hot day. Cheer the whole place up.

    Whoever wrote that copy for the Spirit of Belfast (“delicate as linen, strong as stell”) could probably successfully procure grant money for a diet to make dwarves tall. That is a compliment.

  • gram

    Phoenix rising looks like a wet turd.

    Is that what the artist was trying to symbolise?


    gram: “Phoenix rising looks like a wet turd.

    Is that what the artist was trying to symbolise?”

    LOL. It’s a commentary on the history of the Northern Ireland people’s interaction with the political classes.

  • Splurge

    i think the word we’re looking for is “derivative”.

    The Dancing Tree will never work – is it designed like those kids toys made with elastic where you push the bottom and it falls down and then the elastic tightens and it stands up. Dangerous disaster written all over it.

    Phoenix – Out of the Ashes of 69 etc – is that what was intended. Probably the most practical but as already said, will encourage scum and pensioners to congregate.

    Spirit of Belfast – dull and safe – of the shelf – Spirit of Barcelona, or Newcastle or Ulaan Bataar.

  • Pete Baker


    “it seems out of character. :o)”

    Quite. Totally out of character, indeed. ;o)

  • snakebrain

    I’d be surprised if you could do the necessary safety testing on the Dancing Tree for £200k. If it’s going to be up there for a long time, it has to be bomb-proof. (Sorry, not literally)

    The Spirit of Belfast is crap. Unimaginative, confused in its execution. Nothing really to do with the “Spirit of Belfast”, whatever that may be.

    I like the Phoenix concept best; good appropriate imagery for this brief. The execution doesn’t do much for me. A huge flaming egg might have been better…

  • snakebrain

    My money’s on the Spirit of Blefast actually getting it. It looks how Belfast City Councillors imagine contemporary art to look.

  • Christopher Stalford


    This Belfast Councillor voted for the Dancing Tree.

  • susan

    “Spirit of Belfast” ‘s a bit eurodisney, to be sure, but what I did like about it, and about Pete’s “Dancing Trees of Death” ;o) is that they aren’t static.

    I don’t know much about it but I think in certain times and places public art should provide the public with the opportunity to be surprised by joy, to misquote someone or another. Moving lights, water, an interactive feature, something to make it come alive. Would two year old twins in a buggie start flapping their hands like wings with excitement to see it approaching? Would a couple coming upon it at night be inspired to stop for a snog?

    Phil may be right and that may prove too aspirational, but surely there’s no harm in trying?

  • Dec

    The ‘dancing tree’ get’s my vote, purely as it’s at least a semi-interesting concept. Are there any images available of how it will look like in persistent rain?

    is nausea-inducing in concept, and inexplicable in execution (a semi-gyroscope?).

    One suggestion: if the dancing tree wins it should come equipped with a ladder so wino’s and ferals will be able to perch on it, abusing and tapping up passers-by, thus combining ‘Dancing Tree’ with The ‘Spirit of Belfast’ – 2 for 1.

  • snakebrain


    This Belfast Councillor voted for the Dancing Tree.

    Nice to see our City Council can take a bit of criticism in good heart, without resorting to abuse.

    And what were the grounds for your choice?

  • protorious

    I’m with the dancing tree… always had a fondness for public art which actually causes people to stop and have a look (I think shifting spires of metal may attract a bit more of a crowd than the rather boring Spirit of Belfast).

    When I initially looked at the Phoenix images I thought those people stretching in the day-time were fighting… perhaps the architect was trying to subtley suggest that its design would be perfect for the sites future as a centre for drunken brawls?

    It does look like you’d be considerably comfier watching the inevitable fights if the Council went for the Phoenix…


  • susan

    lol, protorious.

    I can see I’m the only one dazed and confused enough to be charmed by twinkly lights, but the SOB would look pretty at night:

    “From within the groove formed by the two legs in each of the four curved components, a ribbon of light provided by very energy-efficient light emitting diodes will flare and travel around the curved elements. The intensity, color, and movement will be programmed as called for by events, the time of day with its changing light conditions, or special celebrations within the city, such as a New Year’s countdown.”

    Dancing Tree definitely would definitely add the element of suspense, though.

  • dancing tree although the size of the moving parts at the top aren’t big enough compared to the trunk

  • A toss up between upside-down wind chimes, a giant spoon and steel squiggles! Pity no one got through to the final three with a proposal for a bandstand …

  • DK

    I voted for the dancing tree – at least it does something, rather than just sit still and rust.

    Also it is a fitting memorial to the real tree that was ripped out during the development.

  • Christopher Stalford


    I went for the dancing tree because I think that it would draw people’s attention and I have never seen a similar structure in a city centre location beofre. I think it will add to the appeal of that part of town. I’m sorry if I don’t take too well to you speaking for me in terms of telling the public (well at least the people who read thius) what type of public art I would or would not like.



  • Christopher Stalford

    Spirit of Belfast looks dreadful in my view and the Pheonix thing is hardly exiting or original – looks like something you’d see at the entrance to an airport or somewhere like that – although the non-too-subtle imagery of a twisted mass of metal might not get approved for an airport nowadays, you know what I mean.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    oh dear.

    here we go again.

    There is now far too much of this stuff in Belfast, and the problem is that most of it is so bad, and has been thrust up without anyone wanting it there (but don’t you love the way they still call it ‘public’ art?).

    I’m an artist, and I write about art. So i have a vested interest in art being of interest to people, and being supported by our city fathers (and mammies). But i can’t help feeling that a lot of people in Belfast would just prefer it if our public space were not being so unimaginatively redeveloped and privatised, and if “public art” were not being used as an uninspiring fig leaf to somehow make all this private speculation and profiteering palatable. OK, we know a lot of people are getting very rich on peace, but do we have to like it too? Yes, yes, I’m sure Cllr Stalford will remind us that for society to prosper, business needs to be encouraged and so on. Surely I’m not the only one who wishes that the Hoop of Hope and all its terrible cohort would just vanish into the ground? I’m sorry, but all I see when I look at this kind of public art is cynicism, and trickle-down economics.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Daniel, I don’t necessarily disagree with you about Nuala with the Hoola! I don’t like it that much myself, but I think the Dancing Tree thing is different and adds something to the space.

  • Daniel Jewesbury

    My problem, Christopher, is with the uneven pace of development in our city. Everything in the city centre has to accommodate business and industry, and nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of that. Meanwhile, a mile and a half out of town, the same problems, the same inadequacies, the same pitiful lack of provision persist. I’m just an old curmudgeon, sure, but I don’t know why everyone should want to celebrate quite so much, quite so early. I think we have a bit of growing up to do as a society before we put up things like this.

    Every spare bit of land is going to be marked with this sort of ‘sculpture’ soon – the new Broadway roundabout, Carlisle Circus, the list just keeps growing. One of my problems is that once these things go up they invariably stay there for years (with the curious exception of John Aiken’s piece in St Anne’s Square, sorry I mean Writer’s Square; only half of which – the big metal arch – remains, only 15 years after it was commissioned and erected. And what happened to Brian Connolly’s very popular globe, in the same square?)

    Anyway, recommended listening, on this topic, is Jolyon Jenkins’s programme, The People’s Plinths, broadcast yesterday on R4. Listen again here, until 29th Oct:


    By the way, now that the DUP have Culture, can you let us in on what your party’s broader arts policy is?

  • Alan

    Here’s hoping the creaky cran gets it. The others are mere extrusions.

    Was down taking pictures of Nuala and the Blue Fish at the week end for my daughter’s school project – and I like both of them !

    And Chris – perhaps you could get some of your party colleagues on council to vote for more appropriate development in the rest of S Belfast in future . . .

  • snakebrain


    Ah, but we expect the highest standards from those in public office.

    Well, expect might be a tad optimistic. Hope for occasional glimpses of might be more accurate.

    Fine understanding of art you display by the way – or suitably parochial at least.

  • Well, a straw poll of respondents here would suggest the dancing tree will, er, dance it. Quite right too. The Twirling Turd would, as others have said, become a meeting space for goths and skaters like every other public space in the city centre. The SOB (for want of a better abbreviation) would look lovely for about a month and then when the LEDs get gouged out or broken, will be a bit like those lovely moving sculptures in the Odyssey, which have been hanging deflated like a witch’s tit since around 2002.

  • snakebrain

    Does anyone know how the Dancing Tree actually works?