Perspective: Renee Misses the Point; Birmingham's Politicians Have a Civic Duty to Take More Care before Rejecting Works of Public Art, Argues Terry Grimley

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Grimley

Typing, as I discovered while writing this article yesterday afternoon, can be a little tricky when you're shaking with moral indignation.

Why all this stress on my first day back from a fortnight's holiday? Well, not because Birmingham city council's development control committee happened not to like a piece of sculpture I played a small part in recommending.

As an art critic I naturally have to believe my opinion is correct, because otherwise I couldn't do the job - but that doesn't prevent me recognising that others are entitled to think differently.

No, it's as a council taxpayer that I bitterly resent politicians who cannot be trusted to discharge their duties with a reasonable degree of care and responsibility.

Last Thursday, the development control committee deferred planning permission - despite its officer's recommendation - of a sculpture, Becquerel's Tree, designed for Millennium Point by young Scottish artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion.

The 60ft high sculpture is designed to be placed in the new gardens fronting Jennens Road. It incorporates a Scots pine tree, trained to resemble a giant bonsai tree, in a planter mounted on a plinth.

The plinth is clad in blue solar panels which power an irrigation system for the tree, as well as a linear liquid display system containing quotes from famous scientists. There is even a plan to feed any surplus current on to the National Grid (thereby perhaps proving the committee's opinion that the piece can't be art, since it's not useless).

The sculpture would greet visitors to the main entrance to Millennium Point (no great shakes architecturally, but now mercifully softened by the landscaping), giving a taste of the high-tech displays inside the new science museum, Thinktank, while relating to the green environment outside.

No wonder the people invited to advise Millennium Point on art commissions, who included an independent public art consultant and a representative of Millennium Point's distinguished architects, Grimshaws, as well as Ikon Gallery director Jonathan Watkins and myself, were intrigued and excited by a piece which combines art, technology and the natural world in such an imaginative way.

Most members of the public who saw the scheme displayed at the City Discovery Day on Sunday seem to have been rather taken with it, too.

So imagine my astonishment yesterday when in conversation with Coun Renee Spector, chairman of the development control committee, I discovered that she knew nothing about the solar panels or the functional aspect of the sculpture: 'I thought it was a brick tower with a tree growing out of it. What you are telling me is something completely different,' she told me.

Which suggests that Coun Spector does not read newspapers, since the sculpture had been described repeatedly in coverage over three days.

More remarkably, Coun Spector said that no documentation had been available at the meeting. Odd, since The Birmingham Post has copies of committee briefing papers which contain a description of the solar panels and their function. …