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Byron Shire
July 29, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Can we love our bad sculpture?

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Like it or loathe it, is it here to stay?

Oh dear, our sculpture is finished. It’s awful. Really, really awful. I’ve had a look at it from lots of angles and I can’t find one that works. Every part of it is wrong. 

The form just doesn’t work. It’s a cage. We could lock in it people who reverse over double lines to steal your park. Or people who don’t use keep cups. Or perhaps it’s a metal version of a wicker man for the creepy dudes who wank at Tyagarah Beach. We could burn them once a month. It’s a bloody shame. 

The fact that the sculpture didn’t work has made people very anti public art. It should never be public art versus potholes. We should have public art AND our potholes filled. Albeit on this occasion we could probably use the metal to backfill a few of our larger road cankers. 

I was happy when the sculpture was a dick. I love dicks. Lots of people love dicks. Every second person has one. Every third person is one. We could have got away with a big dick, but the dilapidated Xmas tree? The aluminium foil razor wire? 

It looks cheap and nasty. Like it came from a discount store. And dangerous. I don’t think anyone will be meditating in the middle of that roundabout. Cheesecloth-wearing hitchers may end up accidentally becoming stuck to it in a high wind. Birds will probably meet their death on the iron bird sculpture: literal irony. 

It looks nothing like a lighthouse, more like a monument to glorify self-harm. Sorry to the anti-vaxers – we might need to deliver tetanus shots at the Ewingsdale roundabout. 

There has been much talk on social media about the sculpture, and people have got pretty heated and some extraordinarily nasty about it. I don’t think there’s any call to abuse anyone; I think it’s a mistake. People make them all the time. No-one would have commissioned the thing that sits on the roundabout if they KNEW that was what it was going to look like. 

We need to practise our best letting go right now. We need to breathe. And we need to face the truth. It’s fucking awful. I feel terrible saying that. I know how sensitive creative people are. I am a creative person. I know that sinking feeling when you’re halfway through something and you know it’s shit. I reckon the artist for the Byron sculpture thing must have felt like that. 

I reckon the councillors probably felt like that too. They’re being blamed for buying the shit. Clearly they didn’t think it was shit when they bought it. Everyone wanted it to be amazing. It felt like it WAS going to be amazing. I saw the work on paper – as a concept I can see the appeal. The fragile pencil strokes. The delicate suggestion of iconic architecture through the relief of nature. A negative space sculpture. Well I guess it did achieve the negative space thing. It has created a shitload of negative space! If you know much about sculpture you would know how difficult it is to realise those fine pencil lines in sculptural form without it becoming a jagged heap of shiny scrap metal. Which sadly it is. 

I am an artist. I know what it’s like to have to make something that someone has asked you to make. It’s always really challenging because you kind of lose your mojo because you’re not making if for the ‘art’, you’re making it for the ‘money’. Our sculpture was an idea on paper that when realised didn’t work. 

I think most artworks are better when they are created with passion and inspiration and then purchased later. Not purchased first and then created. I’m all for public art, and all for people having different ideas about art. But when something’s shit, it’s shit. 

Not everyone loves Picasso’s Weeping Woman. But it is without a doubt an important and incredible painting. Our sculpture is not a Weeping Woman. It’s a creeping catastrophe. So what are we going to do about it? Grow vines? Wrap it up like a Christo? Use it as a trellis for some banging tomatoes? Grow some weed in it? 

Maybe we need to spend some proper cash. This will shock the more frugal, but in the art world, $52k is not really enough for public art of that size and with such high social impact. I think in trying to be modest with the spend, in trying to be inclusive with a ‘competition’, Council have perhaps come undone. 

Art purchase needs to be extravagant. It needs to be bold. You need to get drunk and spend the entire pothole budget for five years! (The whole $300!) 

Oh – here is an idea… maybe all the Airbnb landlords, those who profit by not paying rates or operating fees of regulated accommodation providers, maybe THEY could throw in $10k each – there’s just over 6,000 of them. So that would be $60 million bucks. 

I reckon we could have world-class sculpture AND our potholes filled. With gold. Oh, and while we’re at it – could we have something that tells the Arakwal story this time? Not the colonial one? 

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  1. Great article! They tried and it didnt work out. Its not the end of the world. The fact money was spent on public art is not the problem here. Council need to be brave and admit it didnt work out and look at move the art to another location asap. Maybe their is somewhere in the industrial estate that is more fitting for this.

    The roundabout itself just needs to be similar to the one coming off the highway with massive rocks on it and palm trees which looks great. The chance to put some edgy art on this spot without lots of negativity is probably lost now.

  2. Hey Mandy Nolan, it’s OK to say it: those Airbnb landlords are, according to the City of Sydney’s Senior Solicitor, engaged in the “Illegal Use of Premises”. So let’s, without fear, call it as it is.
    And let’s also say that we’re sorry that such a horrid landmark together with all those thousands of illegal operators blight our area.

  3. I agree with you Mandy, I have tried to like the new metal art piece every day I drive past it, but to no avail, it is simply a mistake – which is an opportunity to do it better next time. The original concept drawing was a fine idea and I can understand why it was selected, but the final work is not the concept and it needs to go.
    All it takes is for council to resolve that it was a mistake and offer it for sale to the general public. someone will pay to remove it.

  4. I agree with you on most things Mandy, but not on this. I like it. Public art should always be encouraged and you can never please everyone. People despised the Sydney Opera House when it was finished and now it’s a wonder of the modern world. People despised everything Van Gogh ever did until well after he died. I’m not comparing all 3 but public opinion is fickle and it’s really just personal opinion.

  5. If it succeeds any removal movement, and ends up staying there, it will at least stand as a monumental statement on how important it is that people think much much more, before voting at council elections.

  6. It is so hideously shiny! Won’t the sun hitting it cause problems for drivers with the glare? Won’t the salty sea air end up causing the whole thing to turn to rust? Yes, Mandy you are right. A big mistake that’s for sure!

  7. Love your article as usual Mandy, but your comments (and the Echo’s occasional barbs) regarding airbnb are misplaced. I airbnb part of my home. I don’t need council permission and I don’t need to register – even if I didn’t live in it. I pay whatever taxes are owed. If I did (and I’m not against it) need permission or to register, I would. As it is, it supplements my income and helps keep me off the pension. I would in fact be happy to pay an additional ‘bed’ tax, especially if I knew the money would go to the local council.

  8. It seems to be the wrong way around..when driving out of the industrial estate on Bayshore Drive(with Bunnings on my left and BP on my right) I can see the artist’s concept..if we had that view greeting us, on driving into Byron, it would definitely be more like the artist’s sketch..and it is art..and art gets us talking…thanks Mandy.

  9. First time I have seen it, I now understand the angst it has caused.
    At first glimpse I thought it was something to do with the street light polls and power lines, a razor wire barrier, it fits in well with that infrastructure, but why put it where it obscure the view of the lighthouse as you drive into Byron ? And yes I have noticed rather a lot of large potholes in and around the town, no prizes for guessing where the money would be better spent.

  10. I agree wholeheartedly…please let’s tell the Arakwal story next time. There’s not much Welcome to Country shown in the festive inland lighthouse. Walgun, where the working lighthouse now stands, was believed to have had a dancing circle on the crest of the headland which was leveled in 1899 to make way for the construction of the Cape Byron Lighthouse. The circle was used in initiation ceremonies for boys. Now the structure has been replicated the roundabout. I’m trying to be peaceful about it, too, but wishing the local custodians had been consulted.

  11. I honestly can’t see why it’s such a big problem. I think it’s shiny and delicate and quite nice. It is really not offending me in any way. No the light does noy glare from it and get into my eyes. No it doesn’t distract me from driving in any way. No it won’t rust…it is steel I believe. There is NO WAYI would want more of our money spent on taking it down, or buying something more expensive. Air bnb is a seperate issue.

  12. great article up until the dig at air bnb’s, I say bring them on, fuck the council and the way it had made byron the most overpriced and unrealistically expensive town in the entire world… which it now is, all thanks to council greed

    • I have many issues with this Council but I don’t think you can blame this one particularly for Byron being overpriced – quite a bit of that responsibility lies with the STHR industry. And in this area it is a full scale industry that is one of its most destructive forces. No crass rationalisation takes that away.

      Councils past are another matter and the biggest villain – the State Government

  13. Thanks Mandy for what you have written.
    Do people remember the Turtle and Earth sculpture which sat in a paddock in Mullum for about a month before the artist transported it to its final destination? Everybody was wowed by it, people talked about it wherever you went and were very positive. It had a poignant message, a scale that was large enough for people to notice but not towering over vegetation and buildings, it looked like it was made of brass, so it was long lasting but not glaring, as far as I know it was locally made and it was truly engaging without being offensive.
    Another aspect of the roundabout sculpture is that it wasn’t created by a local artist – there are plenty here and I personally know a couple who have produced large metal works.

  14. Well it gives an opportunity to give all the gripers to fling their ” This is my truth so it must be true” hate out far into the community
    – whilst the quiet who appreciate this well designed sculpture are getting on with their satisfied lives and enjoy driving past the birds and find it a heart opened.

  15. Yes, art gets people talking but some things [I agree with Mandy] do need
    to be dealt with. Self & others need preservation when an iron rust-bucket
    of a beacon statement looks like a herniated disk ready to spear suspecting
    human & bird-kind gleefully. The Tin Man-woman from the Wizard Of Oz
    would call the local Council ‘to order’. It’s Razor Wired witless! It’s A Mistake!

  16. Went to have a look at it yesterday before forming an opinion: I agree with you Mandy, it’s awful. Cheap and nasty, as you say. Plea to Council: get rid of it.

  17. Thanks Mandy. Great article. You always make me laugh but this was one of your best. I actually love the sculpture but that’s not the point. What I really love is that we can have public art to talk about. Potholes come and go but this will keep us entertained and engaged for many years.

  18. $56k is nothing. Especially frugal for something attempting to be monumental. Either spend money and do it properly, or not at all.

    I think one lighthouse to light the way for white invaders was enough. Another is not needed to point the way into Byron for the tourist plague.

    Cut your losses Council, shrug it off, be philosophical – and pull it down. It will merely be remembered as the shiny 2018 Christmas folly.

  19. I totally agree about telling the Arakwal story. But as that didnt happen, could it be turned into a ‘sorry story’? It does have a lot of the features of the other Sorry story…the walking in and taking over without consultation with locals and making an enormous mess of the place…

  20. Why did we need two lighthouses?
    The actual lighthouse has a purpose for warning ships at sea.

    The conceptualised artistic one ,it is a beacon for highlighting the wreck that will become West Byron.

    The entrance is there.. the desensitization towards a monstrousity has begun…. its going to be hard to swallow but they approve it anyway..

    • it’s not a done deal – #nowestbyron – 2nd determination JRPP meet (first resulted in deferral) for local landowners part is in February, Land and Environment court meet as well in February – Villaworld JRPP is aiming for late Feb as well – it is crunch time and EVERYONE needs to be there. We can’t afford to allow West Byron to happen. The sculpture is the finger that Byron is giving to West Byron!


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