If you’ve read this month’s edition of Steam Railway, you’ll have seen on pages 8 & 9 our story about Birmingham’s controversial Big Art Project.
For those of you not in the loop, allow us to enlighten you. Birmingham City Council wishes to erect a sculpture outside Curzon Street station, to create a piece of public artwork that will put the city on the cultural map.
One of the shortlisted entries depicts what resembles a pair of crashed steam locomotives, twisted almost out of recognition, lying on their sides.
The artwork is one of five shortlisted sculptures of the Birmingham Big Art Project, a £2million scheme to create a sculpture for the city that is “imaginative, interesting and thought-provoking, photogenic and interactive.”
The locomotives in question clearly have been based on one of William Stanier’s ‘Princess Coronation’ class ‘Pacifics’. No doubt the artist, Turner Prize-nominated Roger Hiorns, used No. 46235 City of Birmingham, currently incarcerated inside Birmingham’s ThinkTank museum, as his basis.
The editorial team at Steam Railway could hardly be described as art connoisseurs, but this proposed sculpture for Birmingham Curzon Street station is certainly “aesthetically challenged” – and that’s putting it mildly.
As if it wasn’t creepy enough already, the sculpture, which is as-yet untitled, would be modelled in stone and given the texture of human skin.
What’s most disturbing about this already misguided piece of “art”, is that this pair of locomotives has a disturbing resemblance to the battered remains of ‘Princess Coronation’ No. 46242 City of Glasgow in the aftermath of the Harrow & Wealdstone disaster.
On the morning of October 8 1952, Britain experienced its worst peacetime rail disaster. 112 people were killed (including the crew of City of Glasgow), 340 were seriously injured and two locomotives (‘Jubilee’ No. 45637 Windward Islands and ‘Princess Royal’ No. 46202 Princess Anne) were written off as a result.
Compare the picture of the wreck No. 46242 to the proposed sculpture for Curzon Street station.
It is appalling that any authority would even remotely entertain the idea of going forward with this, let alone shortlisting it in the first place.
Roger Hiorns says: “The image of the locomotive in bodily transition is proposed as a symbol of the shaping of our sexual and physical identities by technology.”
But let’s take the Harrow disaster out of the equation. Even if that wasn’t a factor, at the end of the day, you still have a sculpture resembling a train wreck outside a busy station. One can hardly imagine Heathrow or Stansted deciding to have a sculpture of a crashed plane outside on of their terminals. What sort of message does that send to passengers?
Such a sculpture is in staggeringly poor taste, and offensive to those who survived the disaster. Why should they be reminded of their traumatic experience every time they pass through Curzon Street station?
Do you know what makes our blood boil the most? The fact that Birmingham City Council wants to spend £2million on this monstrosity.
Maybe we’ve got a bee in our bonnet over nothing and we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Perhaps to you, this is just a harmless piece of art that we shouldn’t be making such a fuss over. That’s fair enough.
But for our money, the controversy surrounding the Gresley statue in King’s Cross is nothing compared to this.