What’s That Thing? “a clumsy, aggressive, cheap-looking new sculpture overlooking Belfast”

As the BBC reports, Belfast has won another award!  In association with the Architecture Foundation, the Spectator magazine has bestowed its What’s That Thing? award for bad public art on Origin – part of the Farset Project, one of “seven big, bold and ambitious cultural projects” that Belfast City Council have developed alongside the Arts Council of Northern Ireland with an overall cost of £900,000.

An 11-metre high public art piece located at Squire’s Hill at the entrance to Cavehill Country Park, with £100,000 national lottery funding spent in its design, creation, manufacture and installation, Origin was officially unveiled on 16 September 2016, to coincide with Culture Night 2016.

Conceived by Solas Creative artist team Patricia Crossey, Tracey McVerry, Gerard Loughran and Niall Loughran with input from local communities, ‘Origin’ formed a key part of the Farset Project.  This cross-community partnership between Cultúrlann and the Spectrum Centre celebrated the river that gave rise to the city of Belfast.

According to the Arts Council press release at the time

Tracey McVerry from Solas Creative explains the sculpture’s concept: “The importance of the Farset River, and the life force which it gives to the people of Belfast is portrayed in the form of a granite ‘ripple’ at the sculpture’s base. Everything radiates out from the centre, just as a drop hits the water surface. The ripples represent the linen industry, foundries, the hard working communities that built and shaped Belfast.

“The six meter tall raindrop, made from polished stainless steel arcs, appears to hover six meters above the ground on a brushed stainless steel plinth and represents the elegant flow of water.  Then, nestled inside the raindrop, is a fin of Narima glass, giving an ethereal quality and animating the external structure with elements of spectral colour, movement, texture, reflection and refraction which continuously shifts with the changing light and creates an arc of energy reflected back to the viewer”.

At night time, Origin will be illuminated by a soft white glow, and the raindrop will appear to float, as if suspended in mid-air. It will be visible from a number of different points throughout the city.

£100,000 national lottery funding was invested in the design, creation, manufacture and installation of Origin.  Its manufacture used four square meters of toughened Narima glass, 200 meters of stainless steel, 250 kilos of glass, three tonnes of steel and two tonnes of granite.

[Yet, it hovers! – Ed]  Indeed.  The Spectator’s announcement of the award is worth quoting in full

Imagine climbing the hills that surround Belfast and stumbling upon this 11-metre-high steel bollock. ‘It will be visible from a number of different points throughout the city,’ coos the Arts Council. Haven’t the people of Northern Ireland suffered enough?

‘Origin’ is the winner of our second What’s That Thing? Award for the worst new public art of the past year. The creators claim the six-metre ‘raindrop’ stuck on top of a five-metre pole represents the ‘elegant flow’ of the Farset River and ‘appears to hover’. Hover? Do you think they know what the word means?

Clumsy, aggressive, cheap-looking (despite costing £100,000), it’s the very opposite of a raindrop. Like the worst public art, it’s also the very opposite of art — ungenerous, suggestive only of itself.

Who to blame? The artists, Solas Creative, for sure. But also the arrogance of the bureaucrats who commissioned it. In the name of ‘peace’ and ‘economic regeneration’, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has littered the region with tat. If they were a person, we’d lock them up for fly-tipping. For now, shaming them is the best we can do.

Heh. According to the BBC report

In response to the result, a spokesperson for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said: “Through the engagement between artists and community groups, a legacy was created for Belfast city through this piece of public art, Origin.

“Not everyone will react in the same way to this piece of art, but the fact that it is attracting interest and discussion is positive.”

Up to a point, Lord Copper…

As quoted back in 2011, Jonathan Jones nailed it

Public art, as it is practised in modern Britain, demands a very different set of skills from the ones that give the world great art. The public artist must be able to negotiate with businesses, councils and arts bodies, to explain an idea and to supervise it through complex practical processes. Big art needs big planning. Public art has to be precisely costed and “sold” to potential funders. It also has to be sold to a variety of local interest groups who may object to it. So the public sculptor of today needs to be manager, accountant, politician and PR expert. Is that anyone’s idea of a born artist?


But that’s the nature of the beast; that’s the culture of public art. It is not about crazy ideas getting made. It’s about safe pairs of hands providing PR fodder for cities that think a Gormley of their own will lift them out of the doldrums. It is a production line for boring art, and mavericks have no place in its dreary ethic.