The Stratford Shoal - A controversial artwork hides a deprived part of London from the Olympic visitors
Renewing the Turd on the Plaza debate
In April 'The Stratford Shoal' was completed. By Studio Egret West, it is a 250m titanium sculpture on the fringes of the Olympic Park in Stratford, London. And there's a broad debate about the role of the artwork: icon or embarassment.
The press release announcing it suggests the competition was "to suggest a solution to this complex urban problem". This "complex problem" is Stratford Centre, an arcade of depressing, struggling shops. With the development of the Olympic Park and the new Westfield Shopping Centre (the largest shopping centre in Europe), the entrance to the centre has been turned around.
Now most visitors and shoppers are coming from further afield - rather than the local community - the new front of the shopping centre needed to be opened up to make it more accessible to visitors.
Why not just real trees? They did try, but the sewers and cables beneath the pavement ruled it out. But the suggestion that this is a "celebration" - as the press release does - is ridiculous.
The designer David West says, "The Shoal was born of a desire to turn a negative into a positive. Instead of screening the back of house of the Stratford shopping centre, which now finds itself in the foreground, we have created a playful and dynamic edge that brings a moment of delight to those arriving in Newham." For the Newham community, the sculptures are a sightscreen shielding the community from the Olympics.
Here's one blogger: "Some people think the Shoal Sculpture is a waste of money, which could have been better spent on helping to get the huge youth unemployment figures in the area down!"
Turd on the plaza
And so this reverts to the classic argument about public art, the Turd on the Plaza debate. Writer Tom Wolfe coined the term in his book "From Bauhaus To Our House." He was referring to the need to fill the newly created plazas of 1960s development with the abstract sculpture of the time (also known as "plop art.")
But now the economic climate has changed and we're using public art to shield our shiny regeneration projects from the unattractive poverty nearby, perhaps we need a new term to illustrate the Shoal's effect.
Curtains of crap?
Banner image: OFE on Flickr Creative Commons
View from Stratford, Simonm1965 on Flickr Creative Commons