Art on show in Brighton and Hove & East and West Sussex
November 2018. The first time I saw the long awaited sculpture on Hove Plinth was at night, in April this year, soon after it was installed. Floodlighting lent the assemblage of metallic objects the appearance of a constellation of stars against the inky sky. But this aura faded as I approached, and realised the apparition is a confection of trinkets such as might be found on a charm bracelet, and the metal framework from which these hang seems a monument to civic values – heavy, self contained, intersecting circles.
By day, the construction is more mundane. A tiny ship, a cricketer, a windmill, the amber cup and an old movie camera are among the items in a tick box list of mementos superficially describing the past of our seaside town. “Come on,” you say, “these mascots represent the spirit of Hove: seafaring, the oldest windmill, the place where British cinema was invented, King Canute.” Yes these things are in Hove’s history, and despite the inclusion of skateboarder and a wind turbine, the collection feels like a cabinet of trophies in a museum.
There is little human spirit on the Hove plinth. You don’t have to look to far to see examples of what I mean by human spirit. Outside Hove Town Hall a sculptural figure with flaming hair juggles torches while balancing on a unicycle. There’s movement, energy, and human spirit – indications of our desire to transcend, to create. A little further along the Hove Lawns a “Peace Angel” bares her breast as she proffers an olive branch and the forlorn hope that we might not go to war, again. Even the forbidding statue of Queen Victoria, grimly looking down on the Hove plinth from the Drive, has more spirit than the bland offering she beholds.
Yes, some of those trinkets on the plinth might refer to human spirit. Cricketing. Making movies. Seafaring. These might have been celebrated on the plinth. But the combined multitude of old mementos dangling from a metal frame diminishes each. No single one is more important than another. All have been reduced to a superficial representation of whatever might have once been great.
Worse, it’s not easy to study any of the sculpturelets (tiny sculptures) from the ground. They’re too small up there. Just like charm bracelet trinkets.
This is the definition of kitsch – reproduced symbols of greatness, heaped together in a jumble that loses any meaning that might have been contained in the parts.
It seems like the artwork has been devised to win a competition supervised by town-hall bureaucrats, with strict instructions not to offend anyone, neither to leave anything out. I’ve googled Jonathan Wright, the artist who won this competition, and his other works have more character than this. Maybe he decided to ‘tick all the boxes’ in his proposal, in order to win the commission, which cost £90,000 to build, according to the BBC. (Link to Jonathon Wright’s website: http://www.jonathanhwright.com/)
As I reflect on this critique, I think of Wright’s title for the sculpture: Constellation. So my initial impression of celestial lights might have been an intention of the artist. That the bright metallic models, supported on a circular framework, might have a deeper meaning, such as ideas held in orbit by some bigger, invisible entity – in this case the civic entity that is Hove.
Hove Plinth was touted to be Hove’s answer to the London’s Fourth Plinth, which brought us such arresting images as Alison Lapper Pregnant (a sculpture in classical style, of woman born without arms, that challenges notions of beauty), and Hans Haake’s Gift Horse (a skeletal horse bearing stock market prices comments on the links between money, power and history). These works are not only aesthetically powerful, they also contain clearly articulated cultural commentary.
I hope we can expect more from the future of Hove Plinth, as the sculptures are expected to change each couple of years or so. To visit Hove Plinth website, and view a BBC News segment, click here: http://www.hoveplinth.org.uk/media