Doesn’t Hastings pride itself on being different? Is the reaction to a piece of art an indictment of the state of the town?

Tom McCann has been surprised at the vitriol directed towards a new art installation on the seafront and asks why can’t people look at the positives, like the recent community effort to refresh the rusting bollards in George Street?

You may have heard about the commotion over the latest art installation on Hastings beach – a sculpture apparently commemorating the April 1919 beaching of the German submarine SM U-118, and the subsequent deaths of two lifeguards who were poisoned by leaking toxins.

The sculpture is intended to represent the historic moment and shows a man choking to death.

While it may well be an indictment of the absolute dire state of modern art, I can’t help but find the general reaction of the town somewhat bemusing because, well, really – why does it matter?

One man’s reaction in the Hastings Observer was to call it ‘depressing’ and a ‘monstrosity,’ before going on to say he wouldn’t want his granddaughter to see it, for some reason, and that ‘…aren’t there any uplifting or inspiring pieces to display?’ And, again, my question is why?

…doesn’t Hastings pride itself on being different and for going its own way?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Hastings pride itself on being different and for going its own way? So, subjective beliefs on art aside, when someone comes to our town to create for us a piece of art, which is at the very least different, but which also commemorates an intriguing and nearly forgotten piece of the town’s history, why is the first reaction to trash it? And anyway, who has the right to say what pieces of art should or shouldn’t be displayed for the public?

Does all art have to be positive? Does that not completely miss the point of art? And must everything be sanitised so as not to offend? 

There are positives in a time like this, believe it or not, and you don’t have to look to art to find them. And if positivity is what people want in a time like this, then I point them no further than to the Old Town, where recently local people came together and repainted the decaying bollards of George Street.

How good it was of local people to come together as a community and take the time out of their days to not only help each other but to do something for the benefit of the Old Town – and out of their own pockets, no less.

Now, of course, I could take a cynical and more depressing view of the situation like our aforementioned critic has and I could well say that the fact that residents had to come together to repaint the bollards instead of the council bothering to take the time to pop down to B&Q and spend the £30 or so to buy a pot of black paint and a brush and do it themselves further represents Hastings Borough Council’s absolute ineptitude and is just another example of their long list of failings – but positivity! 

…push them away from the town and take their creativity and self-expression elsewhere?

Ah, and besides, are we really now so desperate to find some semblance of positivity in everything that we react with negativity to anything that we deem to not be positive? Is there not a sense of irony there?

I just struggle to comprehend why such negativity has been levelled at, of all things, a sculpture. What is this reaction to do for other artists in the future except to push them away from the town and take their creativity and self-expression elsewhere? And in doing so drain the creativity on which this town prides itself.

Perhaps instead of an indictment of the state of modern art, the reaction to this piece of art is an indictment of the state of the town.

There are worse and bigger things to preoccupy ourselves with than a sculpture – however bad it may be perceived to be. Just to name a few: the homeless problem, the drug problem, the potholes like bomb craters and the sudden widening of the pavements along Pelham Place and The Stade, supposedly for Covid regardless of whether local people and local business wants it or not.

But there’s also better, more positive things to preoccupy ourselves with, too. Perhaps a changing of perspective being one. Being happy that an artist has come to Hastings and shared their art with us, another. And then the looking at the smaller things, like the repainting of the George Street bollards!

Part of the controversial sculpture that commemorates the beaching of the German submarine in April 1919.

Oh – and let’s not forget that the piece wasn’t even finished when the flack began to fly, so why are we judging it anyway? I thought people from Hastings weren’t quick to judge?

But, either way, embrace its difference. Just like the town embraces its own. Or so it says, anyway.

But it really is terrible though, isn’t it? What compels an artist to sculpt a corpse deep – throating a cut in half bottle of squash and to give it arms made seemingly from giant, broken scissors?

Dog shit on a beggar’s shoe would make for prettier viewing.

Of the sculpture a council spokesman said: “This temporary art piece is part of Coastal Currents and was installed by the artist Brian Mander with our consent. We do not make subjective judgements on the quality of public art works, but we do require that they comply with relevant health and safety and planning regulations.

“The work was originally planned for installation earlier in the year, but delayed because of Covid–19. The piece is a reflection on the historic beaching of U118 on that exact spot, after which two people died from exposure to toxic gas inside; the artwork is not intended as a commentary on the current pandemic and any perceived similarities are purely coincidental.

“We have requested that the artist install some further contextual information on site as well as information on how the public can contact him with any questions relating to the piece.”

Tom McCann is Hastings born and bred, as were generations of his family before him. He has a deep rooted passion for the town and will be writing more for Hastings In Focus in the coming weeks as well as reporting on people and events around our town.

Use the comment section below to tell us what you think and to highlight what you see as some of the positive things that are happening around Hastings and St Leonards.

8 thoughts on “Doesn’t Hastings pride itself on being different? Is the reaction to a piece of art an indictment of the state of the town?

  1. My son and I saw it the say after installation. it was interesting if a little odd but definitely thought provoking . Would have loved to know the background and info about the artist at the time.

  2. I love living in Hastings but it has more than its share of moaners. I think it’s a great place and if you don’t like a piece of art, does it really matter? It won’t be there for ever.

  3. No I don’t like it, history itself tells us the story, we don’t need to see statues like this at this time especially, but then I hated and still do the art gallery at rock a nor, we have a terrible pier as well and yes I love hastings but not what is going on at the sea front!!

  4. I had a long “argument” with a negative male on the nextdoor site regarding these brilliant sculptures, he would not accept my opinion on them, he degraded them from start to end!

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