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Picture of week: The burning issue of art and healing

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to divide public opinion, it's usually the latest piece of public or performance art. Whether it's the plethora of statues and monuments that have sprung up across Northern Ireland in recent years - from the "Nuala with the Hula" at the River Lagan, or the "Balls on the Falls" at Belfast's Broadway junction - we're never short of a wry nickname to bring the lofty ambitions of an artist crashing back down to earth.

It seems we'll have that very job done for us, however, when the flames are lit at the Temple project at Kelly's Field in Londonderry. The 70-ft balsa wood structure - which wouldn't look out of place in the midst of an Oriental city - has been created by Californian artist David Best as a temporary reliquary for messages and mementos from visitors. All are set go up in smoke at a ceremony this evening in front of thousands of spectators, as a cathartic purging of the expressions of loss, pain and hope which participants have added to their contributions.

The event is described by organisers as turning "traditional associations with bonfire burning in Northern Ireland on their head", and while the crowds who have already visited the site would attest to its curiosity value alone, for some it is more than just a questionable work of art. Rev Graham Orr, Presbyterian minister at Magheramason in Co Tyrone, described the piece as having "a satanic element", adding: "The idea that flames would bring healing, forgiveness and restoration over past hurts and losses would not be an idea found in the Bible."

On a purely aesthetic level the structure is certainly eye-catching, perched as it is on a hillside overlooking its once-troubled host city. Once reduced to ashes the area will apparently be reseeded - apparently as if it never happened. Whether it will, as proclaimed by some, live on in people's hearts remains to be seen, but at the very least it has resurrected for public discussion the idea of whether art can exist for more than just art's sake.

Belfast Telegraph


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