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Byron Shire
October 20, 2021

Councillor speaks out over that sculpture

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Even the Public Art Panel that commissioned Byron’s notorious ‘lighthouse’ sculpture are unhappy with the result.

Byron Council’s Public Art Panel (PAP) that approved the recent sculpture on the Ewingsdale roundabout will update guidelines to ensure a more rigorous procedure in the future, according to panelist and councillor Jan Hackett.

The large sculpture has attracted international attention after it was erected a few weeks ago.

Cr Hackett told The Echo that, ‘It was mission impossible from the start – too little time, too little money – for most professionals to even bother responding to the expression of interest (EOI).’

‘Given that, there were maybe six to nine  respondents, and three shortlisted, including Corey Thomas from Melbourne.’ 

‘The selection panel settled on Corey’s conceptual piece because it was the only one of the three that was not a cliche or banal.

Engineering concerns

‘From the start, there were concerns from engineers on the panel as to how he could structurally resolve his concept. 

‘We were assured he could not only meet the structural requirements, but the ever-so-short timeline as well. In other words, the artist convinced the panel he could deliver the project on time and within budget.

‘Given his strong portfolio and reputation, he was granted the job on blind faith. 

Absence of documentation

‘There were no follow-up documentation or drawings, no design documentation which should be done before construction, no engineering specifications or certification.

‘All we received after granting the job, were some photographs of the cutout birds and the metal hoops. The panel were dismayed and not at all happy, especially when the materials were changed from stainless steel to aluminium. However, by the time the panel were told of these changes and the absence of documentation, it was too late in the day for further interaction between panel and artist. From then on everyone had their fingers crossed he could deliver as promised. 

Art panel unhappy

‘I am not happy with the result and neither are the rest of the PAP. Like Mandy Nolan, I’m an artist, and I’ve tried to look for something worthwhile in the final structure.

‘Without taking photo details of some sections, there’s nothing, in my opinion, to recommend the end result. 50 per cent of the birds remain flightless and are still attached to the substructure. While we asked for a less obvious (literal) lighthouse image, we got more to the point of having a beam of light aimed at the real object on the Cape – made of a solid block of bird cutouts! From the Bayshore Drive entrance it still looks like a Xmas tree wrapped in tinsel. From Ewingsdale Road you can see a lighthouse and birds in flight, but you can also see the substructure, when the concept was to see birds only, birds swooping out, not twisting around a central core. 

‘There are rivets still lying on the ground below and lighting to be added. It is not complete, not by a long shot. But it can never be what was sold to the Panel and will remain a disaster. It was rushed beyond anyone’s abilities to complete something of interest or value. It deserves all the criticism though not the language in some cases. It is a failed work and I cannot see how it can be rescued or resurrected. 

‘I keep thinking of “committees always producing donkeys” and without significant changes to the Public Art Guidelines and Criteria, it could well happen again.

‘However, I can tell you that the Panel are already working up changes to the guidelines to ensure a more rigorous procedure in the future.’ 

Corey Thomas was contacted for comment – he referred to Council for comment.

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  1. Yes. It is a disaster. It’s not good enough to say…this will not happen again.
    It needs to be moved.
    Surely it can be placed somewhere more harmonious to its surroundings? Thats a win win situation.
    Start again and get Byron Shire Residents to vote the’winner’.

    • Yes dismantle it and put it somewhere else in Byron, and let’s start again . Better informed
      With more time, and with the Community voting for the susccesfull final Sucpture .
      Won’t stop all criticism but will go a long way for Council to be more in touch with its Community

  2. “‘I am not happy with the result and neither are the rest of the PAP. Like Mandy Nolan, I’m an artist, and I’ve tried to look for something worthwhile in the final structure.” Jan Hackett! Jan, now a true Artist would defend another, try and understand the work, not jump on the bullying bandwagon that the creator has had to endure. Some people are artists Jan, others, well, just sell pictures for money and keep their mouths shut. I first saw it on a Friday morning half finished, thought it captured the essence of the Lighthouse above. On each occasion I drive past I enjoy it more, many hate it, some who originally did have grown to like it, others will always despise it, that’s the nature of Art. Instillation Art is rare in these parts and well done Byron Council for installing it. Trying to capture the populist vote eh Jan? Well as P. T. Barnham once said, “You’ll never go broke underestimating the taste of the general public!” (Jan, its on a roundabout, meant to be glimpsed at when driven past, not studied. Artist turned critic, never a good look)

  3. So what is the plan to get rid of it. To say it won’t happen again is not good enough. Clearly these are not decisions that can be made by the “panel”. And who is on this panel? This tinsel tree is just the start of what that new roundabout is about to bring to Byron, and it is not what the people that live here are about. Let’s cut our losses and put in a tree, something we can grow with, and learn from past mistakes.

  4. Thanks for your honesty . My personal opinion is that it should be removed immediately and a big living tree put in its place . Regards Glen Scheibe

  5. There is absolutely no reason why the sculpture had to be ready for the opening of the roundabout. It was an artificial deadline that lead to rushed decisions and poor oversight. At this stage, the PAP should be held accountable to ratepayers and quite frankly, sacked.

  6. I’m an artist / maker myself and try not to be negative …but I really don’t like it …it brings to mind a school kids project of a rocket… So harsh and Un natural for a place like BYRON particularly . Plant a tree or two there for birds to rest on . Get the metal recycled into something useful .

    • This is the most obvious remedy to a bad situation.

      Community could vote, but it really needs to be removed and replaced elsewhere… where it is more appropriate and appreciated…. perhaps donated to SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS. festival site…

      I applaud you Rachel… you speak for so many of us…

  7. My main concern with this piece is it’s location. In the forest of street architecture created by the lighting system, offset from the sight-lines that would reinforce its relationship with the lighthouse and centred on a very busy intersection where the viewer’s attention has little time to dwell, any work is belittled and wasted.

    It actually deserves a better setting. I suggest that it would be better loved at the corner of Hinterland Way and Coolamon Scenic Drive. The relationship to the landscape is still strong, the elevated open position beside amongst the existing large trees will enhance the monumental aspects of it’s form and the birds may actually seem to fly a little……


    • Please not on the hinterland way where I live, just get rid of it. Move it to Sydney or Brisbane. Totally inappropriate.

  8. I am in agreement with Linda Young. (Martin Harbour’s comment reflects the views of one with vested interests, or, at least, grave biases.)
    If it is not possible (& everything is) for this ‘monument’ to be removed, then perhaps, Jan, it might be a good idea ? for a meeting of residenets to be held wherein views as to how to actually modify, to change it can be discussed & hopefully implemented? The artist has been paid & has no ownership. We do. Aluminium can be heated & bent (even though the structure is weakened in the process); the structure could perhaps be re-shaped to form something that actually is a sculpture, a statement reflecting Byron’s cultural essence, however that might be seen/described. This could be, as well as a huge lesson for us all, an opportunity for some of our artists (as well as artist friends who might live outside the Shire) to come together & discuss possible modifications, changes that do not further compromise, but serve to enhance the existing monstrosity. Failing this, perhaps the ‘sculpture’ could be heated & weakened to the point where it melts & falls into a shapeless, shiny mound, surrounded by splatters of what were once silver birds.
    But surely it can be removed, sold for scrap sheeting or something? Linda is right in suggesting that it’s not enough to say it won’t happen again. It has happened; it ought not have. It has to go. Now. Simon says……

  9. much as suspected. I so wanted to like the project based on proposal image. more diligence required to ensure the artist can actually fulfil his promised work. I still have a slight, grudging appreciation for the piece, but recognise it was a flawed process. still I admire the panel (PAP _ change this fast!!) for not selecting a banal piece which would have been much worse. this was a noble effort and choice by the panel foiled by lack of funding and engineering diligence to reach the ambitious design.

  10. Why did they not do a totem pole or a large surf board with aboriginal design painted on. Both of these could have been done within the timeframe & by local artists & not 50thousand dollars worth, Sorry but I think it looks a mess & should be moved out to see. Preferably.

  11. I do pitty the artist for having to take so much flack but it is really of poor taste.
    The eagerness for artist to be recognised today has lead to desperate measures by compromising on the materiality whilst under pressure of the reality of the time allowed.
    The reason for low numbers of respondents for this project could be poor advertising and the fact that applying for a grant application or submissions to council briefs are actually a vigorous long winded process already.
    If the art panel didn’t like any of the submissions then there should not have been a desperate choice made. Who said we needed a sculpture on a roundabout to obscure visibility and squander money.
    I do hope it gets moved on and that money could be spent fixing the creative creators in our roads first by charging a $1.00 bed tax for the tourist that we are trying to impress and for the locals who have to use share the roads everyday.
    Then bring on the Art in and on appropriate places.

  12. with respect isn’t that closing the door after the horse has bolted?

    I don’t understand why it wasn’t a grove of trees or edible forest that visitors could see change over time – much more sustainable and in keeping with the area – the inorganic materials baffle me as a choice of medium that the Council would think suitable – a gross misappropriation of funds

  13. Rush decision is not a real answer to the people of byron living with it.

    Why no hold a LOCAL application to artists for repurposing the materials. Im sure my imagination is limited but even I can see beauty in those shiney birds just not on that structure setting or location.

    Step up and swallow your pride, remove it and turn the disaster in to something else

  14. Christopher, a dubious submission was selected over a few that were apparently paltry, partly on the strength & merit of his previous projects. I do feel that, if there was any doubt re. the selected artist’s submission, then the process ought to have been halted, then & there, it’s shortcomings re-assessed & another ad /s for tenders be placed when the planning foundations were clear. Also, this being a Monumental art project, proposed to attract attention to visitors at this town’s entrance to a welcoming statement of a sculpture, the cultural essence of Byron (not the mess of its infiltration) is paramount, all sufficient to require that promotion to invite tenders be placed widely. Perhaps after this monstrosity’s removal, such will be done.

  15. I’m sure everybody concerned approached this with the best intentions, it didn’t turn out as we’d all hoped for sure, but I reckon we got our money’s worth in willy jokes alone!

    Let’s just accept that it’s a mistake and get rid of it. How about crowd funding the removal costs and installation of some native flora?

    • Yes.. crowdfunding has been my suggestion for removal costs and replacement….

      However…. it is not really the community who should pay for the mistake…. in location….

      Design shortfalls should be addressed by Council and the artist…. community is complaining about the POSITIONING and THIS is Council’s area of concern… absolutely.

  16. I didn’t want to participate in any forums about this until I had seen this piece for myself. Yesterday was that day. I have so much to say, but will just say this … please move it.

  17. I quite like the roundabout in town….. you know, the one EVERYBODY drives past.
    It has the mosaic walls and the Pandanus tree in the middle.
    Another one like that would be way better….. or may even a Norfolk Pine in the middle?

  18. What on earth were they thinking?! OK, it might not be a hi-tech alternative but what’s wrong with just having a low level wall of some appropriate material (not aluminium) or maybe some big boulders, with the Aboriginal flag attached and simple “Welcome to Byron”.

  19. Greg Legg-Bagg I agree with you about the online creativity in comments of what the structure may be likened to. Even voting for the one you liked best. My first sighting was one of shock, coming from along Ozigo road as we call it and saw the phallic-ness of it immediately and felt a cringe as a local, that visitors would see it, then the view coming straight at it I saw the dis-embowelled structure and craned my head as I passed to further understand it. An artist comment I read somewhere, online or letter to editor maybe, said a lot of art is not understood or appreciated by the masses and in time this piece may be hailed an amazing piece. Public art around the world I have seen can be crazy seemingly meaningless and even ugly to the passer by. I have never been one to like abstract shapes dominating public spaces. With all the furore this has caused I almost think it is totally Byronesque in the outrageousness since Byron IS becoming more like ‘tinseltown’ whether we want it to or not and a monument to the eclectic mixed up mish mash culture we are. I must say one morning EARLY I saw the sculpture as morning light came through it, reflecting off its many metal pieces, masking the form and scaffolding/structure with light , and the whole thing was resplendent as though emitting light. Ethereal to be sure. Shining even shimmering.To the point I wanted to stop and look. it actually took my breathe away. I slowed as there was minor traffic and stared as I passed by. I saw a car parked and a man proceeding towards it camera in hand. Maybe its transcendent beauty is to be only seen at special times like sunrise and sunset. So maybe with lights installed this translucency may be achieved a liitle for night time so we are not driving past a dark structure.
    Also about the rush. There was time for public submissions. The complaint then was it was an out of towner and not a local chosen, with all our talent here. The answer was–no local applied. I think maybe certain moneys ear marked for certain tasks have to be spent in a given time frame or the next lot will not get the govt matched dollar for dollar whatever component the govt gives, that sort of thing.
    I just love the pandanas trees in the roundabouts in town. Even when bigger they will not drop branches of risk, only fronds.

  20. Yes, it is a disaster. Coming from Europe it looks more like a monument to a concentration camp with razorblade razor all around. It’is very aggressive and a very bad fenChui with all the pointy bits!. It doesn’t represent the gentle and feminine land of the shire. When you look at it, it as the opposite effect of the Spirit of the bay. Your heart doesn’t open up, your body feels threatened, you don’t feel ready to open up and share your awareness and your love. It has to be removed somewhere else! I like the idea to transform it into a vertical garden so we may lose all this pointy and scary bits!

    • Its messy and unfriendly and menacing etched in barb wire that only reveals itself as birds when you are close.
      I commend the committe for speaking honestly about the stages where the project whent wrong. I feel for the artist who was doing a big job on a low budget in a difficult time period. I agree that a better place in town or in the shire could be found for it . And then start again on another idea for the site . I think a sculpture would be good but one which interacted with plant life in some way . This shire is about the interesection of art and nature. Would be good to see something there that reflected that. Love to all receiving flak who were no doubt just doing their best.

  21. A beautiful garden would be so much more attractive with a lowish tree as the centrepiece. The sculpture has not turned out as intended by the sound of it and should be repurposed… somewhere. Stop the debate and please finish this council by admitting the mistake, the inappropriateness of the work and just move on by moving it. I too think crowdfund ing to remove it would be a good idea. Lesson learnt I hope.

  22. On behalf of 1 resident of Lismoronia, we are prepared to trade your Rocket for our Dead Cow.
    Our Cow would fit in to the rural environment and your Rocky Rocket would be perfect for the tasteful street scape of Central Lismonia. Just saying, could solve both problems.

  23. This “explanation” only serves to highlight the dysfunctional nature of our council and the responsible committee, the PAP. Not a single “excuse” holds water, and every justification reveals a clear lack of common sense or management abilities.

    Time pressure? Exerted by whom?

    “He was granted the job on blind faith.” You have got to be kidding!!!

    The panel chose it because of the three proposals on the short-list “it was the only one of the three that was not a cliche or banal.“ What kind of a short list is that, when the selection made is based primarily on a lack of alternatives?

    “No follow-up documentation or drawings, no design documentation which should be done before construction, no engineering specifications or certification.” And yet the project went in unabated, unchallenged, even as the specified materials were changed.

    Ms. Jacket sounds as if the panel was held hostage, powerless to act as they saw the project going wrong. All except for writing the check!

    This is mismanagement and should not be brushed aside.

    • This my my reaction exactly, David – I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I don’t want to criticise well meaning volunteers on the panel but where was the professional Council oversight that saw that the project was properly monitored and the outcome delivered as contracted before payment?

      If the panel all thought it was ‘Mission Impossible’ from the start why on Earth proceed when public money is involved and the site in question so important as one of the Bay’s gateways? Were the panel actually handcuffed in all this and if so who is really responsible?

      I haven’t seen it yet and wouldn’t feel qualified to comment anyway (don’t know nuthin’ about art just know what I like). These comments from Jan about the process though are really disturbing if this is generally indicative of how things happen in the shire: thought bubbles followed by a lack proper process and no-one seemingly taking responsibility.

  24. Why does it seem that all “art”, even when it’s not actually art at all but is failed concept is sacrosanct from criticism? It didn’t work, doesn’t look like it’s supposed but somehow we’re all just expected to keep our mouths shut because it’s art ….if it was exactly like the concept then fair enough, some people will love it and some will hate it, that’s the nature of art. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like this is the case at all. Move it to an industrial or urban area and plant a bloody big ficus in the roundabout. Much nicer.

  25. i think the roundabout works well and the gardens look as though they will be great once they develop, pity that their success have been obscured by commentary over the sculpture.

  26. As per usual a Mea culpa and let’s move on. Not one person on that esteemed panel had the guts to speak up? There is so much wrong with this work. I want to know why the professionals in the shire weren’t consulted. Why not Merran Morrison Rebecca Townsend Suvira McDonald or myself. I want to know who wanted this thing to be rushed through. Who’s baby was this. The panel must resign. In the future the panel must also meet more than 4 times a year. But look on the upside. Byron got international coverage. For the wrong reason but none the less.

  27. sounds like council is just making excuses and trying to blame the artist.
    “There were no follow-up documentation or drawings, no design documentation which should be done before construction, no engineering specifications or certification.”
    Stop trying to blame the poor artist (who I’m sure has been scarred by the whole affair)
    Just own the mistake. I don’t think the locals of Byron Bay were asking for anything to get erected there so why the rush in the first place??? It would have made more sense to wait until the perfect sculpture was found to represent Byron.
    I feel sorry for the artist as it wasn’t his fault. He put a submission in that got granted. Now he has to deal with all the backfire because the locals don’t like it – which again is the fault of council.
    The artist created something quite different that may have been perfect somewhere else but instead has to deal with everyone abusing him and that’s not fair!

  28. Put more work into it then, Get the original artist or a new artist to redesign what’s there. Don’t blame the artist, it was a small budget and timeline for a prospectively grand sculpture.

  29. It appears that only about 1% of the miriads of comments over the weeks, either like it or have conjured a way to tolerate it.

    If it’s acceptable art by the few, they mostly agree that it’s definitely not in the right location.

    Councilor Jan Hackett has had the guts to call it as it has unfolded. Byron Shire needs to front its ratepayers and concede, to at least save face.

    On the practical side, maybe BSC will decide to conduct a vote for resolving it’s permanent location.

    Afterall, we all love Byron, or at least used to love Byron. We are probably largely heartbroken over this, on top of the West Byron disaster.

  30. There is a simple answer to this – pack it up, store it and bring it out for each Christmas – but not in its current position…

  31. Just take it down ASAP. They can leave it bare for now untill a better decision is made. I thought a tree would be appropriate, Pacific fair has a baobbab tree in the centre of a roundabout and it looks awesome, or a 3d peace sign would set the right tone and honour Byrons roots as your coming in and match the welcom to Byron sign. But seriously council just needs to cut their losses and should have removed it yesterday.

  32. I originaly come from Mullum, I like to stay in touch with the area, I first seen the structure posted on the facebook page, I was astounded, horified that this structure or be It Art was ever given the green light to be placed in such a relivant part of Byron, plrase remove it and place something else there.
    Maybe get an Aboriginal piece put there by a renowned artist.
    To me that would be just fantastic or plant a beautiful living tree with a lovely garden of colour around its base, someone already mentioned the tree aspect. Good for them.
    But please remove it to a pasture somewhere that is distant to the viewer as the further away you are from it the better it looks.

  33. Calling the other artists submissions cliche or banal is one offensive comment and lends itself to ignorance. This article is fairly ignorant.

  34. Money should have been spent on much more wisely, we visited Byron Bay last year and was totally discusted by the filthy public toilets, absolutely terrible, the toilets in the venues we ate in were not much better either, clean up your act Byron council. YUK

  35. Looks like a cock. Perfect for Byron Bay.
    Considering the roundabout closer to town took longer to build than the Taj Mahal a few more months deliberating over a more suitable piece wouldn’t have hurt anyone.

  36. I don’t think there is any shame to remove the art and replace it with a (pandanas) tree.

    We’ve all been rushed off our feet. We’ve all misjudged, miscommunicated. We’ve all bought something on spec and then later thought “mmm, no”. Please don’t do any more work on it, dismantle it and move on. No one is to blame, just move on and be happy.

    We can create whatever we want to create, and the consensus is that we create something other than what is there. The art is beautiful to some and horrid to most. It’s ok to move it. It’s ok to change it.

    And for goodness sake, please spend our money on a decent art council and/or responsible and sensible authority to take care of the future artist/council communications for the aesthetic and cultural integrity of the region. Our children will thank you for it.

    • I haven’t made too many under-researched or impulse 50 grand purchases – have you, Bron? Any ill- advised purchases I’ve tended to be make with my own money.

      How effective is Council’s practice of handing over major projects, facilities and other resources to volunteer managers who have commendable intentions but meet intermittenly and lack the background and resources of Council staff? With an already over-stretched staff lacking the time or commitment to provide sufficient oversight?

  37. Sell it to Flannery and Elements. They can put it up on the beach front at their resort and use it for a shark watching tower.

  38. It is just unfortunate that the roads are so bad in Bryon and the expectations of everybody are so high for a piece of artwork (all council expenditure) and guess what , it just looks like a waste of money (when it could of be spent on roads). But isnt that just such a casual laid back way to look at it., oops we run out of time to do it properly haha classic bryon style.
    I camn see what the artist was trying to achieve, lets not blame him ?

  39. It seems that the Art Panel needs to bring more people in to help with the selection process.
    Yes, art sometimes fail, but I still find it somehow representative of Byron’s glossy, overpriced, touristy and teenage vibe. Leave it there.

  40. We all make mistakes and this is a public one. Let’s admit it. Get past the blame. Fund the removal (community efforts), and Start again on a vision for this gateway into town. We have learnt that we do not want a sharp, sparkly, metal image but it seems most of us want something to reflect our natural environment. There are so many options and ideas to explore moving forward…

  41. I’m a designer/painter/novelist & poet. Arts [as such] can often
    break hearts as well as affect the head. Truth is, if the artist
    can’t deliver the goods he/she must fess-up. Take the mistake

  42. Hi Chuck Sharpe here from NASA, I heard on the grapevine your not happy with your space ship. NASA is interested. A couple of booster rockets and it could be orbiting the planet in no time. We need a few test pilots. Any suggestions???

  43. This is the most ugliest thing I’ve seen in a long while. Please remove it and like the others have said, replace with something beautiful like a tree

  44. I’m glad that Jan has acknowledged that this is not what the council or art panel wanted, (Perhaps the council should just stick to a basic road infrastructure) let’s remove it and move on. Better to have nothing than this eyesore, which is ugly and a dangerous distraction on a busy intersection.

  45. I would like to commend SHAMANA on a well thought out response, add golden lighting, and over time more will come to realise its also a “Nod to the Eastern Most Point” a monument to the eclectic mixed up mish mash culture we are. I must say one morning EARLY I saw the sculpture as morning light came through it, reflecting off its many metal pieces, masking the form and scaffolding/structure with light , and the whole thing was resplendent as though emitting light. Ethereal to be sure. Shining even shimmering.To the point I wanted to stop and look. it actually took my breathe away. I slowed as there was minor traffic and stared as I passed by. I saw a car parked and a man proceeding towards it camera in hand. Maybe its transcendent beauty is to be only seen at special times like sunrise and sunset. So maybe with lights installed this translucency may be achieved a liitle for night time so we are not driving past a dark structure.


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