Ring Road Aesthetics

In my hometown of Ashford, Kent at the moment there is a big public art program running alongside the redevelopment of the town centre.   This has attracted the kind of small-town criticism that I assume it was partly designed to provoke and has involved a number of interesting artists, doing all kinds of things that you can read about here. The Daily Mail newspaper did try run a story on the project, but luckily that fizzled out before they had a chance to develop a ‘political correctness gone mad’ or Princess Di angle.

Whilst the vast majority of the criticisms levelled against this scheme have been along the lines of ‘why spend the money on art when you could spend it on schools / hospitals/ bus stops / arresting young people’, there has been very little public engagement with the content or quality of the art involved.  These pictures are of  a building that has been covered in paper (perhaps a little derivative in 2007?) and then made into a giant canvas for graffiti artists.  In principle, I think this was a great idea.  It is in a prominent location on the town’s ring road and opposite the train station.  Potentially it offered a ‘way in’ to the scheme for lots of young people and was participatory in nature – all these things go in it’s favour.  My problem with this is that the final product is so bad.  Given a wall this size, why turn it into a giant tag?  There are plenty of artists out there working in this style who are producing work that is about more than its creator (have a look at this as a high-profile example) and that respond in a more meaningful way to the building and its environment.  It is definitely a wonderful thing to have art in the public realm in a place like Ashford, where aesthetic considerations have always been way down the planning and development list, but the fact that is its public shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of discussion based on judgements of quality.

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Public Art - Ashford Ring Road 2

8 comments

  1. I have to say I totally agree on all counts…Its really good to hear Ashford council have let this happen but the result is no more pleasing to the eye than a big Morrison’s billboard ad. There’s some really interesting and imaginative stuff being done in Brighton (will try to post the pics soon,) that tells stories and really reflects the town’s population.

  2. Indeed theres some mindblowing wall graffiti in Brighton at the moment, one diarama of James Brown is just breathtaking. That Giant tag in Ashford is the poorest use of such a big space though.

    The idea is there, but they need to make sure its used artistically i think, and not as a massive extension of some single cell lifeforms ego.

  3. A friend of mine showed me photos the James Brown mural, it is indeed amazing.

    Something needs to be done about that mural in Ashford, it is especially bad. I mean, who thought it was a good idea? Hows exactly does it engage with anyone other than the artist(s) who must feel great about being able to paint a large space without getting arrested.

    I suggest sticking a large Internet Explorer ‘broken image’ logo over the top of that, or better yet, a giant BSOD! What would better reflect Ashford’s investment in culture?

    -Reid.

  4. The annoying thing is that Ashford is finally starting to invest some money in the arts, but that this particular high-profile, public statement isn’t going to win people over who already think that spending money on culture is a waste of time. Next time ABC announce an exciting project, and there are some really great things going on with the lost-o scheme, the reception will probably be less than positive from local people and the media.

  5. At one level I suppose you could perhaps see a tag as evidence of the need for expression, to say, look, I do exist… amongst those without much of an existence otherwise, who are rarely noticed or valued; evidence of the desparate spark of life in even the smallest person.

    Can’t see the proleteriat grasping this concept somehow.

    I have the view that public art should be inspiring and possess the ability to make people ‘think’ positively and constructively, to connect with the soul mind. However I instinctively feel that most people are not going to be able to connect with the object of this thread as it is a wrong piece of art in a wrong place that is ultimately counterproductive to it’s intentions because of this.

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