The UK's worst piece of public art?



Origin sculpture, Cavehill Country Park, Belfast

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The sculpture, officially entitled Origin, has won the Spectator’s ‘What’s That Thing?’ award

Is this really the worst piece of public art in the UK?

The Origin sculpture overlooks Belfast and was unveiled in September to coincide with Culture Night.

It now has the unhappy honour of winning the “What’s That Thing?” award for the worst piece of public art to be erected in the UK over the past year.

The vote was held by the Spectator magazine, which condemned the sculpture as “clumsy” and “cheap-looking” – despite costing £100,000 to build.

But as Oscar Wilde nearly said – there is only one thing in the world worse than a piece of public art being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

Those who helped to create the artwork are trying to see the positive side of their dubious victory, despite being accused of cultural “fly-tipping”.

The 11-metre high sculpture is perched on Squire’s Hill in Cavehill Country Park.

While its official title is Origin, unlike most public art on the island of Ireland it has yet to be saddled with a popular rhyming nickname.

Perhaps it is a good thing for the designers that nicknames such as the Balls on the Falls, and the Doll on the Ball are already taken, given that the Spectator was less than flattering in its description of Origin.

Image copyright
Paul McErlane

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Belfast’s spherical metal sculpture, entitled Rise, is affectionately known as the Balls on the Falls

Image copyright
Lior Press

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Belfast’s Beacon of Hope has been nicknamed variously as the Doll on the Ball, the Thing with the Ring, and Nuala with the Hula

The latest sculpture is in the shape of a raindrop and its design was inspired by the Farset, the river running beneath Belfast which gave the city its name.

The structure was erected last year as part of a joint project between the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.

‘Shaped Belfast’

Three tonnes of steel, two tonnes of granite and 250 kilos of glass were used to create the piece and the project received £100,000 in lottery funding.

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Three tonnes of steel, two tonnes of granite and 250 kilos of glass were used to create the piece

It was designed by a team of artists from the organisation Solas Creative, with input from both unionist and nationalist community groups.

Explaining the concept at the time of the launch, Tracey McVerry from Solas Creative said: “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.”

She added: “The ripples represent the linen industry, foundries, the hard-working communities that built and shaped Belfast.”

‘Haven’t the people suffered enough?’

The Arts Council promised the raindrop would be illuminated at night and would be “visible from a number of different points throughout the city”.

But the Spectator was less than impressed by the result and asked: “Haven’t the people of Northern Ireland suffered enough?”

“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?” the magazine sneered.

It added: “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.”

The vote was held in partnership with the Architecture Foundation, which said: “Works of art increasingly inhabit and too often wreck the British public realm.”

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.”


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