Let beach sculpture stay - artist

IT was supposed to be a striking piece of art to honour composer Benjamin Britten's links to one of Suffolk's favourite coastal towns.Instead, the sculpture on Aldeburgh beach has divided the town and left the powers-that-be calling urgent talks.

By Sarah Chambers

IT was supposed to be a striking piece of art to honour composer Benjamin Britten's links to one of Suffolk's favourite coastal towns.

Instead, the sculpture on Aldeburgh beach has divided the town and left the powers-that-be calling urgent talks.

On the day it emerged Maggi Hambling's sculpture – in the form of large, steel scallop shells – had been vandalised, Aldeburgh Town Council revealed it was seeking talks about relocating it.

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Last night, the artist said she was surprised at the response the sculpture had had – but believed it should be allowed to stay where it was.

Ms Hambling said: "I'm rather surprised but, with the statue for Oscar Wilde that I did in London, that again seemed to divide people.

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"When you put a sculpture in a public place there are going to be different types of reactions and I'm not in charge of that.

"You make a work of art in privacy, and when it goes out into the world it takes on a life of its own - people either love it, hate it or are indifferent to it.

"The sculpture was conceived particularly for that spot on the beach, where it has a kind of conversation with the sea, and it needs space around it to be appreciated properly.

"A lot of work went into it, and I think it should stay where it is. Oscar Wilde once said that, when the critics are divided, the artist is at one with himself and I think that applies here."

The sculpture, splattered with white paint on Sunday night, was only installed on Aldeburgh beach in the autumn to honour Britten, who used to live in the town.

But three separate petitions have been set up about proposals to move it – two in favour and one against the idea.

A petition was started towards the end of last year by Peter Schrank and Maggie Ling against its current location to the north of the town on a stretch of beach heading towards Thorpeness. It has attracted in the region of 800 signatures so far.

This has now been countered by two petitions in support of the piece.

Richard Crisp, of stationers H G Crisp of Saxmundham, has so far gathered around 40 names after starting a petition last week.

Meanwhile, Aldeburgh resident Janet Sparrow has collected around a dozen supporters for her "We love it" campaign.

Its critics feel it interrupts an otherwise unspoilt area of coastline, while supporters say it is a beautiful work which attracts visitors to the town.

The town council has now asked to meet with Suffolk Coastal District Council about the possibility of moving the sculpture.

In an open letter to Suffolk Coastal, it said: "Although the council had discussed this application in June last year when they approved the application, they now believe their decision may not have been the right decision in view of the present public opinion.

"The council understands that probably the vast amount of local people did not realise the size and bulk of the sculpture, having only seen a small reproduced photograph of a model of the sculpture.

"On hindsight the council believes that the sculpture is sited in the wrong location and consideration should be given to it being moved to a more suitable place."

It stressed: "It does appear that most people are not against the actual sculpture but only that it should never have been erected on this particular unique stretch of unspoilt shingle beach which is an environmentally sensitive area where rare wild plants grow."

John Davies, countryside manager at Suffolk Coastal said they were receiving "a great deal" of correspondence about the campaign.

Of the 25 to 30 letters so far, most of which have arrived in the last ten days to a fortnight, the overwhelming majority were in favour of keeping it where it was, but they had not yet received a petition against it.

The letters, including the request by Aldeburgh town council, would be reported to relevant Cabinet members, he said.

"It will be up to them to make a decision about how to proceed with them," he said. "We have been working very closely with the sculptress on this project from the very early stages. The council will obviously discuss with her any of its thoughts."

But the debate is raging on in the town of Aldeburgh.

Sam Pegg, of J T Pegg's which was involved in constructing the sculpture, felt it was well situated because of closeness to the car park area to the north of the town.

He claimed: "A lot of people who are criticising are not Aldeburgh people."

Janet Sparrow, campaigning for it to stay where it is, argued the view from the sculpture was of the Sizewell A and B nuclear plants.

"Somebody came in and said how awful it was and I thought: 'How could you say such a thing?' It is beautiful and I like it," she said.

Richard Crisp, another supporter, said: "I think it's a very bold, imaginative work and I think that fits in with Britten's music."

Moving it would be "very sad", he said.

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