Polestar – New Public Artwork in Letterkenny

Polestar, Closer

Visitors to Letterkenny from this week, in particular those coming for the 2006 Fleadh Cheoil which is just getting underway, will be greeted by a new site when they come into the town.

The photo above shows the “Polestar” which has just been erected at the Port Bridge Roundabout (near the Mount Errigal Hotel, on the main approach road from Dublin, Derry, Belfast and Sligo directions). The sculpture is causing some debate locally, with people either loving it or hating it. Personally, I think it’s a stunning piece, and will make a great focal point on the entrance to the town. Full credit to the artist, Locky Morris from Derry, who has done some great work on it.

There’s not much information on the Internet about this new piece, so I’ve put some information about it here. If you have any questions, either send them to me or put them in the comments on this post.

Here’s some of the questions that are being asked locally, which I’ve answered as best I can:

Q – Who decided on this piece?
A – A committee of council officials and engineers decided after an open competition

Q – Who is paying for it?
A – The sculpture has been funded as part of the Government’s 1% Capital Arts Programme. When a major infrastructure project is undertaken, 1% of the budget is allocated for a public arts programme. In this case, Donegal County Council and Letterkenny Town Council have put together the allocations from a number of projects to do this, rather than doing several smaller projects.

Q – How much did it cost?
A – I understand this project has cost around E100,000.

Much of the criticism of this project has been based around a perceived “waste of money”. I defintely agree that E100,000 could be well spent by any of the schools, hospitals or voluntary groups in the county. I would also question the merit of some of the other projects that have been undertaken under this scheme (naming no names).

But the scheme exists, rightly or wrongly. Either the Council used the money like this, or it went unused. Giving those circumstances, I feel the Council(s) made a good decision to put together the different amounts of money to fund a major project like this.

Below is some background on the monument from a Press Release sent out to the Councillors.

According to the artist, the site for Polestar at Port Bridge has historically been an important intersection, where trade and goods were landed by boat and distributed by rail and road to the surrounding area. Although the transport has since evolved, today the site remains at the hub of Letterkennys dynamic expansion. Polestar will make direct reference to the sites rich history as a meeting point, reflecting in its structure and materials its heritage and at the same time provide an impressive landmark.

Although abstract in form its internal structure and logic is intended to make strong visual reference to the former railway line and bridge that once operated along this site. Polestar is to be orientated on a similar axis to the former bridge which sets up a visual dialogue with the old stone bridge supports. Its dynamic movement could be read as acting almost as a ghost image or presence abstractly suggestive of the former movement of trains along tracks through this part of the landscape.

Its visual language also points to local maritime history where Port Ballyraine would have seen the regular importation of timber to the building trade and also particularly the poles to carry out the “Electrification of Rural Ireland�? programme during the mid 1940s onwards. In that way it seeks to combine an almost rural industrial aesthetic with the organic. The transformation of these poles perhaps could represent the changes and developments in Letterkenny and the northwest over the years, in that way it could almost stand for the bringing of light.

According to the artist, the name Polestar, while playfully revealing its constituent material, also points to a celestial navigation system. This is a star to be steered by, something serving as a guide or axis of rotation. In that sense it uses the function of roundabouts here in microcosm. Its articulation and vertebration at once points to the heavens while reflecting on the circulation and movement of traffic here on earth. These normally earth-bound timber poles will be transformed to take them beyond the everyday. The artist believes this to be a rich dynamic statement that will hold its own as a new landmark within the Letterkenny

The artwork will be made with up of 104 large stout treated timber poles, each measuring approximately 300mm in diameter and 6.5 metres in length. Essentially the piece will be built from a series of very stable triangular sections bolted in galvanised steel. These sections will then in turn be bolted together in an interlocking pattern to give an extruded, circular, star-like configuration. It is likely to rise to 12 metres in height, be of a similar length, and have a breadth of six and a half metres. JC Warnocks, a Dery based firm were the Consulting Engineers on this project.

The artist, Locky Morris was born in Derry in 1960, where he continues to live and work. He studied in Belfast and Manchester. His work has been exhibited widely including Directions Out at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin 1987, the British Art Show touring Britain in 1990, New North 1990 and Strongholds 1991, both at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, Kunst Europa in Germany in 1991, the XLV Biennale Venezia1992, L’Imaginaire Irelandais in Paris 1996, The Puffin Room in New York in 1998, the Ellipse Arts Centre in Washington in 2000, Something Else touring Finland in 2002/3, The Trouble with Talkies at the ADI space in London 2005, and is currently showing in the Dogs Have No Religion exhibition at the Czech Museum of Fine Arts in Prague. Throughout his career, his engagement with Derry City and its changing character has shaped his work, often showing in community centres and the street. For a number of years in the late nineties he concentrated solely on making music with his band Rare. In recent years he has been expanding his practice from object making to include text, sound and digital media. The recipient of numerous awards he has realised a broad range of public art projects.

PoleStar has been commissioned by Letterkenny Town Council and Donegal County Council utilising the Per cent for Art Scheme. This scheme was established by the Office of Public Works in 1978 and the Department of Environment in 1986 and allows 1% of the budget of capital projects (up to a maximum of €63,000) to be set-aside for a Public Art Project. Traditionally the monies were used to commission permanent sculptural pieces but national guidelines published in 2004 state that ‘Public Art’ can be of any form and can work within or across many art forms, such as visual art, dance, film, literature, music, opera, theatre and architecture and that works under the scheme can be of any duration, temporary or permanent. Donegal County Council’s Public Art Policy and Public Art Plan Making Shapes¹: Public Art in Donegal 2006 – 2010 are based on these guidelines where the vision is to put in place a programme that continues to support and encourage original, artistically ambitious and high quality public art, which aspires to international standards of innovation, imagination, excellence, contemporary arts practice and value for money, across all art form disciplines that will impact, charge, animate and connect with the public or local community. The delivery of the plan which will be managed by Ms. Terre Duffy, Public Art Manager with Donegal County Council, and will be launched at the end of September simultaneously with the Public Art Website.

Update: The Polestar has now been illuminated. Click here to see photos of the Polestar at night

10 thoughts on “Polestar – New Public Artwork in Letterkenny”

  1. as you say, the scheme exists.
    i read on the front of the letterkenny post that it cost €120,000
    personally, i think it is good for the town, but grossly overpriced..although i would imagine most of the cost going towards the artist anyway.

    how much did the artist make from this project?

    would it be possible for a member of the public to request the information from an office here in letterkenny?
    if yes, how would this be done? in writing?

    i believe the public have a right to know how their money is spent on such projects.

  2. well, what is more important? peoples health or art?

    go into the general hospital,people lying on trolley beds in corridors, in bad health..this is what the government waste money on?

    i’m not against public funded art projects to improve the impression of a town.

    but PLEASE, priortise what is actually NEEDED.
    We NEED a better health service..not “art” projects like this.

    i would also like to raise the point of public spending in general..it is taken for granted & not managed sufficiently.

    it is disgusting.
    how can some politicians even call themselves leaders?

  3. we a group of children in 3rd class in Woodland N.S, have found the Polestar an excellent and exciting source of fun and learning. We did a project on The Polestar and this covered many areas of the curriculum, including art, English local history and even Information Technology, using the internet to find information and the article by Damien blake. We also did a display of this and drew pictures of the Polestar.

  4. Kevin,
    You can submit a Freedom of Information request to get that information from the Town Council. For more information, you should ring them on 074 919 4222. There is a small fee to submit such a request. Personally, I don’t believe the project was overpriced; an awful lot of engineering and work has gone into this project, and the cost includes substantive works on the roundabout as well, not just the payment to the artist. This piece will be a symbol of Letterkenny for decades to come.

    Paddy,
    I agree with you. I made the point much stronger on Highland Radio in response to some comments than I have here. If it fell to us as Councillors to allocate this E100,000, you can be sure it would have gone to serve more pressing needs. If it were in our remit to allocate funding to support the health service in Letterkenny, you can be sure there is no politician who would oppose that. But it’s not; we are told what we can spend money on, and what we can’t. The money for the PoleStar could be spent on a public art project, or sent back to Dublin. That’s the options we faced.

    3rd Class,
    Many thanks for your comment, I hope this has been of use. If I can be of any further help, on this or anything else, then please get in touch with me directly.

  5. I think the polestar is a beautiful peice of artwork. In my opinion public art should say something about the area and the polestar represents the history of the railway in letterkenny. It reminds me of the angel of the north in the north east of england which is also stunning to look at and represents industry in the area.
    I agree with the comment that the polestar will be a symbol of Letterkenny for years to come. I welcome a project that looks good for the town.

  6. as a sculptor visiting from Australia I was realy impressed by the strength and majesty of the polestar sculpture .I congratulate the sculptor and the town on commissioning it.

  7. I think it is a beautiful piece…

    I would like to reply to the comment about the artist making a lot of money … it would shock alot of people how little the artist actually earns relative to the hours put into the project, the money pays for the whole project to be made and everyone knows how expensive building anything is, the artist gets a percentage of that.

    I really think that a piece of art like this is worth every cent…

  8. Visiting Ireland from Australia we were absolutely blown away by this amazing statue as we entered Letterkenny. My only regret is that I didn’t have a chance to take a photograph. The people of Letterkenny should be very proud of it. The initial opposition to it reminds me of the initial reactions to the Sydney Opera House. Now all Australians are proud of what is now an iconic building.

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