Belfast City Council and PLACE are out and about this week with Wolfgang Buttress, the artist behind the 40m high RISE sculpture that will be unveiled on Broadway roundabout by Easter. There was a public meeting in the City Hall on Wednesday at lunchtime, followed by an evening event at Falls Community Council.
You can catch Wolfgang from 7-8pm on Thursday night at the Richview Regeneration Centre, Donegall Road. Light refreshments will be served. To reserve your place, please call Ivy Rollins, Tourism Culture and Arts Unit, Belfast City Council on 028 9050 0512 or email culture AT belfastcity DOT gov DOT uk.
The process to place a piece of public art on the pylon-free roundabout has taken longer than Belfast City Council and Roads Service ever imagined. The first commission – Trillian, a 45m tall wild flower designed by Ed Carpenter to represent a post-Troubles city – fell through when the price of steel rocketed beyond the project’s budget.
Wolfgang Buttress had been shortlisted the first time round, and nearly didn’t apply again when the commission was re-advertised. Speaking before the event began, he explained that having visited the site, he wanted a sculpture that would acknowledge:
“… the fact that there are two different sides, the fact that it’s important that it’s seen by both sides of the community as well as people coming into Belfast. It needs to be nice and simple, universal, and looks the same from each angle.”
The Bog Meadows are reflected in the reeds that will sit below the balls and (in some cases) structurally support them. Some of the reeds will also house the lights that will illuminate RISE at night, making it an icon from ground level as well as from the air as flights come in and out over the city.
Wolfgang describes in the short clip that he wanted the sculpture to be “open” and yet “have presence”. At nearly 40m tall and 30m across, it is a huge structure. It’s certainly in proportion with the tower blocks next to the Royal site.
Fabrication of RISE is already underway in Rasharkin and work to prepare the Broadway site should begin before Christmas.
A good aspect of the project is that around 80-90% of the money is expected to flow back into local NI businesses and suppliers.
I’m looking forward to Nick Patterson’s timelapse project to capture the construction.
There was quite a bit of discussion at the lunchtime event about how public art is commissioned. How constraining are the strings that are attached to public art projects, potentially compromising the raw art with constraints, briefs and box-ticking. Of course, throughout history, pretty much all commissioned art has been tainted by the funder and not just requested for arts sake.
But what should be the balance between aesthetic judgement and city building? How do democratic structures and civil representation sit alongside community involvement. Rather than be a completed monument, should public art be something that enriches people’s lives on an ongoing basis?
Belfast has an on-off relationship with public art.
The Big Fish has had a positive impact, along with the quiet persistence of the Nula with the Hula.
While the public got what they voted for, Dan George’s
steel squiggle Spirit of Belfast was a bit of a let down and failed to capture the imaginations and hearts of city centre workers and shoppers. (The sculpture’s promised lighting features – “ribbon of light … [whose] … intensity, color and movement will be programmed” - failed to materialise which damaged its evening impact in Cornmarket.)
Daniel Jewesbury ran a (successful?) campaign against the Magic Jug. He was sitting in the front row of the RISE session and I asked him afterwards about his vision for public art.
Personally, I suspect the sheer size of the enormous sphere, and the mesmerising effect of the smaller sphere suspended inside, will capture the imagination and hearts of drivers as they come towards the end of the M1 motorway heading into Belfast, or drive out of the city centre heading towards the underpass.
RISE has the potential to take over from the big wheel as the media’s shortcut image of Belfast.
I’m less sure about what local communities (the Village and the Falls) will make of it and how they’ll be able to engage with the alien structure that is about to appear. I can help fearing that it’ll be a target for throwing toilet rolls at and decorating with flags once a big enough cherry-picker is found.
A roundabout – even one that is as large as Broadway – is an unfriendly and isolated place. No matter how much grass is laid, no one’s ever going to cross over to the middle of it in order to kick a ball or sit on a bench and stare up at the sky. Cars whizz clockwise around the circumference, and people scoot across the middle spending no more than a minute or two to get to the traffic lights on the other side.
Although there may be a passing trade of shoppers heading to Park Gate, and staff heading over to the Royal Group of Hospitals, they are transient, windswept and in a hurry to get past. Poor access and parking, together with health and safety concerns must practically rule out any use of the space underneath the sculpture (owned by Roads Service) for community festivals and events.
Yet maybe there’s hope in the fact that within days or weeks of its announcement, RISE had already been given the nickname of the Balls on the Falls. Artist Wolfgang Buttress seemed quite pleased that it had been so quickly adopted.