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Poll: £100k for Belfast's giant tulip in middle of nowhere - is it worth it?

Critics round on new piece of public art

By Rebecca Black

Published 16/09/2016

The new Origin sculpture at Squire’s Hill in the Cave Hill Country Park, overlooking Belfast
The new Origin sculpture at Squire’s Hill in the Cave Hill Country Park, overlooking Belfast

A gas company logo or an inspiring beacon? While Belfast's newest piece of public art - said to be inspired by the River Farset - has yet to be officially unveiled, it has already divided opinion.

Origin, the highest-positioned sculpture in Belfast, overlooks the city from Squire's Hill in Cave Hill Country Park.

At night, it will be illuminated by a soft white glow, the raindrop will appear to float and it will be visible from a number of points across the city.

The 11-metre high structure was funded by Creative Belfast, a partnership between Belfast City Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which invested £900,000 in seven large-scale projects showcasing the city's cultural heritage.

But Origin, which cost £100,000, has attracted poor reviews, with one critic accusing the project of "financial frippery".

Ahead of the piece's official unveiling tonight, to coincide with Belfast Culture Night, political commentator David Vance said the money spent on the artwork would have been better off in people's pockets.

"(It is) £100,000 of National Lottery money lavished on something that looks like a giant tulip stuck in the middle of nowhere," Mr Vance said.

"It's not an investment, it's more of an expense, but the sort that passes for normal here in taxpayer-funded heaven.

"Why do we indulge this financial frippery when that £100,000 would bring much more happiness if it had stayed in the pockets of those who earned it?"

Blogger Owen Polley said that while he supported investment in "good public art such as RISE (the sculpture in the Broadway roundabout area of south Belfast)", he was far from sure about Origin, which he compared to a business's logo.

"This seems fairly dull and unimaginative, though - like a gas company logo," he said.

A number of people on Twitter also suggested that solar lights effectively performing the same job as the sculpture could be bought for as little as £45.

However, Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said public art was there to "provoke a conversation". "If people are debating its value, then it's doing its job," he added.

Solas Creative artist team Patricia Crossey, Tracey McVerry, Gerard Loughran and Niall Loughran were behind the artwork, which formed a key part of the Farset Project, a cross-community partnership between Culturlann and the Spectrum Centre celebrating the river helped give rise to Belfast.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Mary Ellen Campbell said the initiative was all about "investing in big, bold and ambitious cultural projects that would give everyone the opportunity to take part in high-quality culture inspired by our rich heritage".

"It was also founded on close cultural and community partnership," she added."I'm delighted that Origin will be a beautiful legacy. It celebrates the source of the Farset River and all of the people who have helped make Belfast great. I'm looking forward to seeing many more visitors coming to enjoy the sculpture and exploring this stunning area of our city."

Roisin McDonough, the chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, also described Origin as "suitably powerful and inspiring".

"Public money makes things possible that wouldn't otherwise be possible," she said.

"In the hands of artists, a remarkable and defining legacy has been created for Belfast city through this piece of public art.

"Origin gives us a suitably powerful and inspiring statement about the scale and the influence that this river has had on generations of people's lives and livelihoods in Belfast, and I hope that many, many people come to enjoy it."

Tracey McVerry, from Solas Creative, explained how the River Farset inspired the piece. "The importance of the River Farset and the lifeforce which it gives to the people of Belfast is portrayed in the form of a granite ripple at the sculpture's base," she said.

"Everything radiates out from the centre, just as a drop hits the water surface. The ripples represent the linen industry, foundries and the hard-working communities that built and shaped Belfast."

Some £100,000 of National Lottery funding was invested in the design, creation, manufacture and installation of Origin.

Its manufacture used four square meters of toughened Narima glass, 200 meters of stainless steel, 250 kilos of other glass, three tons of steel and two tons of granite.

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