Saturday, 26 September 2009

Bits of Belfast - Part 3 - Spirit of the City

Walking out of Victoria Square on Monday evening after enjoying the Odeon Cinema’s showing of Indian Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (yep this is still 2009 and not 1981) and armed only with my mobile phone, we stumbled across an unfamiliar sight. Sat on the plinth of granite before us, a large metal structure, a kind of tangled metal ball. For those of us either ‘not in the know’ or just forgetful (given it was 2 years since this piece of art was selected to be one of the centre pieces to Belfast’s Streets ahead project) we were all puzzled as to what it might be that was being set in place... and indeed, could it even just be a giant 3D puzzle? By the looks of it being installed by the men working well into the night, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it might be. So apart from our first impression of this object being erected in the dimly lit Cornmarket that evening, what exactly is this new addition to the city’s growing list of shapely metal objects?

Well the answer, which has been much more coherently reported on by other bloggers and media sources such as AlanInBelfast, the BBC and The Belfast Telegraph; is that this is the ‘Spirit of Belfast, a big steel sculpture created by Dan George, a 66 year old artist and creator of large installations and sculptures who hails from a place called Lake George in New York State, USA.

It is supposedly going to be awash with coloured lights at some point that will illuminate the hard metal frame (which incidentally wobbles quite vigorously at the biggest overhang when the wind blows). A feature to encourage more people to use the space that’s now, more than ever, a prime meeting spot with its vicinity to Victoria Square. The sculptor himself hinted that he had the old linen and shipbuilding industries in mind with its concept and “so you might see it as having the strength of steel and the delicate woven fabric of linen”.

Forgetting it was even taking place, I happened to stumble into the middle of the official opening on my way home from work on Thursday night and hung around to watch the speeches and the ribbon cutting. Those on show were a circus school act which I sadly had just missed, followed by a few folks including Dan George himself, Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Naomi Long and MLA Margaret Ritchie.

The speeches were ok, not too boring but mainly just the usual civic event type spiel. Dan George spoke well and tried to connect with the public, not keeping it too formal. He gave a bit of an insight into his feelings toward the piece. Naomi Long came across warm and almost seemed to be reciting her piece from memory, stating how it was positive for Belfast. Margaret Ritchie also went down that line but inadvertently gave the highlight of the speeches... during her stop-start, dry and dull stereotypical politician like delivery, her speech notes blew off the stand from in front of her. She didn’t notice for a split second and so the classic look of panic on an MLA’s face as she realised she didn’t have a clue what to say next. Ordinarily I’d feel bad laughing at someone’s misfortune but what the hey, MLAs get paid enough to simply go to Stormont, recite answers and questions that are prepared for them by someone else, whilst very rarely, so it seems, actually solve any problems. Maybe that’s harsh, but sure, it was almost ‘You’ve been Framed’ worthy. She gingerly stepped down from the plinth and a step or two forward to stop her papers making it any further towards the press. Afterwards there was a wee wait before a very prolonged posing with some scissors – the usual pretending to be cutting the ribbon whilst cameras recorded the forced moment.

So formalities over, it was just the sculpture itself. Now I’m not going to claim to be any kind of an art critic... I mean I’m the heretic who was more wowed by Egyptian Cat statues at the Louvre in Paris than I was the stamp hung on the wall that goes by the name of the Mona Lisa. However when it comes to things like this, it’s hard not to have an opinion or come to a conclusion... and you know what, apart from the question of whether it’s really worth £180k, I do quite like it. However after some careful consideration; it doesn’t make me contemplate the historical industries of the city. Like the others who were with me when we first saw this thing in the dark; it instead reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog and the loop-de-loops you pull as Sonic beats gravity in his twisted world of hoops and rings. Maybe it wasn’t the intention but that’s what springs to mind when I look at it. Positive in the long run and reflecting the spirit of Belfast, whatever that indeed can be put down to in words... who knows? What I can say is that I do think it does fill the space well and it will no doubt be as big a draw for tourists having their photo taken – maybe as popular as the ‘big fish’ aka Salmon of Knowledge’ and the ‘Thing with the ring’ aka the ‘Loop with the hoop’ aka the 'Doll on the Ball' aka the ‘Ring of Thanksgiving’. Also along these lines, apart from the delays, Belfast’s streets ahead project does look like it might do the trick and make the city center more of a great place to head to. The new trees heading away from the Spirit of Belfast really seem to suit the place and the nice stone paving seems clean and fresh. Let’s just hope they don’t have to dig it all back up too soon for more utility repairs.
As with the the other pieces scattered around the city, our landmarks and city artworks tend to get a more suitable nickname. So the last question on this new addition has to be what will its new nickname be?

'Ball by the mall'? or as Norn Girl suggested - The 'Twist when you're pissed'? she's classy is that Norn Girl.

If you have any suggestions of what we should all be affectionately calling it, please do add a comment with your ideas :)

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughtful write up - didn't make it to the opening, but glad to hear the wind added to the amusement. "The ball at the mall" might catch on!



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