The Mother of all helter-skelters
Knick-named the ‘The mother of all helter skelters’, artist Anish Kapoor and designer Cecil Balmond’s contribution to the Olympic legacy, The ArcelorMittal Orbit, was finished last week and welcomed its first visitors to a great deal of ‘hur-rah’. The winding steal frame, painted in Kapoor’s signature blood-red, swirls out of the roots of the Olympic stadium and towers over the East End is being heralded as a beacon of the collision of culture and society; architecture, art and design; engineering and commerce; and politics and sport. The great ‘hur-rah’ told a typical Marmite ‘love - hate’ story.
"I wrote to the people who made it and said how pleased I was we had it: it's something nobody else has got,” said Keith Green, Stratford resident for some 70 years in The Guardian. “I am not overawed by the design. Maybe it will grow on me."
Others were less convinced. “That piece of shit belongs in Alton Towers”, said another member of the public.
As for the critics:
“To me, it represents the archetypal ‘turd on the plaza," wrote Oliver Wainwright of Building Design magazine.
Jonathan Jones, Guardian Journalist and 2009 Turner Prize judge, was more constructive.
"Colossal and imperfect, Anish Kapoor's sculpture at the Olympic Park is the body of us all … the closer you get, the more organic it becomes".
But such ‘love hate’ Marmite taste is exactly the point of such public sculpture or architecture. It is meant to stir debate, provoke opinion, get a proper reaction – it's liberal Britain at its best, both sides of opinion on the table. If you are Kapoor you can even take positives from seemingly negative feedback too.
Yes from a distance it does look like it could belong in Alton Towers, but then who doesn’t love the thrill of the Nemesis or Oblivion, they are rides of fantasy – a moments step into space travel – are these bad associations for the Orbit?
And Mr Wainwright, a ‘turd on the plaza’ might be one description, but would you really prefer something rectangular, square, shinny, minimalist – a building which could easily pop-up in the characterless Canary Wharf. Or maybe you wanted a sculpture that no one could climb or interact with – a new age Nelson’s Column, another lifeless self-portrait from Anthony Gormley perhaps? Yes from a distance it might look a bit un-easy on the eye, and it might take a bit of getting used to, but we need more art and architecture to shock us, push us into an uncomfortable space.
And well said Jonathan Jones. If you only enjoy the Orbit from afar you are not enjoying its full potential. It’s there to be personally experienced, climbed, and interacted with. It is as much about the view from it, as the view looking at it.
Given we can’t think of any other contemporary art-architectural-sculptural structure in London or indeed the UK where this is true, surely Mr Green is right, East London is a better place for it. We can’t wait to climb it, even if it might cost fifteen quid.