Issue 208
May/June 2019


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Jul 23, 2019

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Birth – and death of a public artwork

Shingu's Birth of the Sky – before……

IN THE FAST-MOVING world of retail, things often pass their sell-by date, and this is even true of public art. Although not obsolete for any reason other than it stands in the way of a multi-million-pound refurbishment, the sculpture Birth of the Sky by the Japanese artist Susumu Shingu in the Livingston Designer Outlet is having to go.

The sculpture, which had an impressive presence at the entrance of the mall, was installed in 2001 when the shopping centre first opened. It was commissioned by the American founder of the McArthur Glenn chain of retail outlets, Joey Kaempfer, after being impressed with sculptures by Shingu he had seen in the United States.

During the 18 years the sculpture has lived in the shopping centre it has become a familiar sight. Shingu, who is known for his kinetic pieces, which interact with the elements of wind, water and air, designed the sculpture in three sections.

……and after

The top, made up of stylised clouds which occupy the domed roof space, a middle section comprising of steel rods with metal cups attached which rotate (the clouds are mobile too). These cups gather up water which is rained down from above then redistributed into a circular pool which makes up the bottom section of the sculpture.

Although I was initially concerned that the sculpture might evoke more unwanted 'weather' in the form of rain it has co-existed within the bustle of the busy public space with dignity: a classy piece of kinetic public art.

It is by no means past its sell-by date either, so one wonders if it is not a mistake by the owners of the centre to discard the piece?

Shingu's solo exhibition entitled Spaceship, on at the MUDAM modern art museum in Luxembourg, finished earlier this year after an eight-month run. Wind Caravan, a set of twenty-one sculptures were on show in the museum's sculpture park, while the MUDAM Large Hall exhibited a substantial sized piece entitled Water Tree.

I understand that the cloud section is to be retained in situ. It will hover above a sweeping double staircase and quite soulless middle of the mall wine bar. What is more the remaining metal sections are to be reworked by another sculptor. Facilities manager.

As I understand it, Mr Shingu has not been informed, however, it was pointed out that the sculpture is the property of the owners to do what they please with.

This a fact you can't argue with, but I have misgivings. Mr Bradley is optimistic, likening the new piece to a 'phoenix rising' which seems like an idea likely to have been dreamt up at executive level by the new Chicago based owners La Salle Investment Management.

To be fair, the management team at the Livingston centre seem genuinely enthusiastic about the new sculpture, claiming that 'respect' for the earlier piece is a key priority.

Mr Bradley could not reveal much about the new sculpture or the artist commissioned to create it. The only hint is that he is a well-known name, so I wonder who that could be?

I also wonder if the original sculpture might not have had the refurbishment worked around it with the addition of a new 'exciting' piece as well? It could be argued that the phoenix already exists in the shape of Birth of the Sky.

It will be missed.

CATHY BELL

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