Discussion Forum
The Fustian Needle

From Anne Handley
Monday, 23 June 2008

I really like it! It clearly represents a very special tool, designed for a specific job - one that was very important to Hebden Bridge in the late 19th century - an important part of our local history.

I think that calling it a knife just creates controversy where there is no need for it. To say that it represents cutting (in the stabbing sense) is ridiculous! Most industrial tools have sharp edges or other dangerous parts, but they are not symbols of violence! They are symbols of the progress in manufacturing that they represent, and the ingenuity of the engineers who designed them.

From Christine Bampton-Smith, Lib Dem Councillor
Tuesday, 24 June 2008

An impressive piece of Public Art, reflecting the history of Hebden Bridge

From Oscar H
Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A phallic piece of ground fill, born from nepotistic relationships! Visually out of place with its surroundings; a dishonour to our founders, and our current residents! Those involved should hang their heads in shame!

From Jan Scott
Tuesday, 24 June 2008

We're surrounded by the town’s history in the shape of chimneys, mills, housing, causey ways etc. Surely these all speak sufficiently eloquently of the past?

From Catherine Thompson
Wednesday, 25 June 2008

'Fustian' formerly known to be a hard-wearing fabric of cotton mixed with flax or wool, now its meaning is more commonly understood from the word 'fustianist' : A high flown, bombastic style of writing or speaking.

At last Hebden Bridges Fustian Needle stands upon our square, and what a woefull exhibition it is.

Has no thought been given to: the use of the square these days? Appreciation of to its scale and proportion? consideration of the diverse historical, cultural, social and economic history of the town?

This square is a central stage of activity where residents, holiday makers and day visitors alike collide, meet, pass through, sit, play, chat. It is an eventfull and active space at the heart of the town and its community - despite its intimate and small scale. It is not at all civic in its character. This Fustian intervention is blatent and clumsy.

Surely, the subtelty of art is that it ought to evoke, suggest and leave for interpretation its subject. Craftmanship, shouldn't this respond to appropriatness of materials, scale and workmanship?

This needle's blatent narrative indeed sits high flown and bombastic - just like its named adjective - and so uncormfortable with the character of its rather more subtle and intriguing setting.

May I suggest it is moved elsewhere before the real essence of the square is lost?

From Jim S
Wednesday, 25 June 2008

I'm interested in who you class as "our" founders Oscar?
After all the fuss made about the "knife" I was pleasantly surprised when seeing it installed in the square. As a piece of art in its raw sense I think it is only mediocre. However, as a piece of public art that is intended to reflect the history and the future of our town in a manner that is accessible to all I think it is good.

I would of personally loved to see something more artistically challenging, but lets face it, even though Hebden pushes itself as a forward thinking liberal town there are far too many whingers and moaners for that to ever happen.

I take my hat off to the planners, the artist, the manufacturers, and the guys that dug the hole!

From Julie Cockburn
Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Yes Catherine, its wordy - in the way - and it looks like a rocket launcher (or howitzer/grenade launcher). Perhaps its not suprising as this was a collective effort cobbled together by Council officers, a steering group and an 'artist' who doesn't find favour (with me). This project should have been put out to competitive bidding. If we'd wanted art in the square we could have had something we weren't embarrassed about.

I vote we get rid of it quickly and replace it with the original seat and perhaps a couple of fixed chessboards on tables, something to bring us together and encourage meeting and communication.

If the council is too proud to scrap the horrible thing after spending some huge number of thousands, how about a compromise, stick it on the plot of grass at the bottom of the Buttress - it can't stay where it is.

From Andrew Hall
Thursday, 26 June 2008

I neither like nor dislike the knife. It's ok, I suppose. Maybe a bit too clean and clinical, more like a surgeon's scalpel than a textile worker's implement. But it's harmless, insignificant and inoffensive - the sort of public art that is unlikely to inspire.

Its anodyne appearance fails to reflect the hardship, suffering and trauma of conditions in the mills two hundred and more years ago. But that really doesn't matter.

Its 'surgical steel' look reflects a sanitised view of the past - one in which good, honest workers did a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. That's how it must have been! Far better that view than traumatising our children with the reality of mill work in the early years of the 19th century. Does it really matter if we are living a lie?

No, I really don't mind the sundial. Some may say that, being a knife, it symbolises a divided community. Surely we don't need to be told! Others I have talked to say it has certain phallic qualities re-asserting man's domination and superiority in a town that has become known as the Lesbian capital of the North. What nonsense! Yet more think that the £24,000 or so it cost could have been better spent pro bono publica. Whatever!

To me, quite simply, it's a non-event, and something that it's impossible to get worked up about.

From Andy M
Friday, 27 June 2008

So it's an anodyne, phallic, horrible, mediocre, impressive rocket launcher-like symbol of male domination?

Where can I get one?

From Janice S
Friday, 27 June 2008

The only problem I have with it is the missing apostrophe (in towns wealth) in the information on the base. It didn't occur to me that it was a phallic symbol - surely not much of one as to size or angle, in comparison with all the disused factory chimneys! Perhaps its small size and lack of verticality (if there is such a word) could be seen as a metaphor for the emasculation of the 21st Century male. Or perhaps not.

I dare say we'll get used to it.

From Jez L
Wednesday, 2 July 2008

I still recall when consulted about the square that there was no scupture suggested back then. I opted for an open square and so did many others which is what I though was agreed. Then this sculpture came on the radar and who actually consulted the town on this? I had hoped the council had quietly lost it but no, there it is.

Its awful, clynical and out of place. How can we have carol singing, pace egg or various other square events now with that thing blocking the middle? And the only seating provided are weird circular things that dont alow you to relax. Whats wrong with a proper bench or two looking across the square?

If it could be shown to me that a majority like it then I'll shut up. But doubt they do. Its unwanted and has been forced on my town by some planners in halifax with a warped version of improvments.

From Julie Cockburn
Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Getting used to, or putting up with this object is not good enough - at bottom its an insult to the people who lived, worked and struggled in this town.

Have a look at "Dock Workers" being created to pay tribute to the dock workers of the Port of London. (www.lesjohnsonsculptor.com - got to public commissions.) A figurative piece like this would, I think, have been appreciated/enjoyed/valued.

Having spent £24000 + (of our money) on the 'sculpture' and the dodgy bollards etc. I'm sure we can't have a piece we like, but we can get rid of the one we've been lumbered with - the scrap value of the metal would probably pay for its removal.

From Jack Hughes
Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Given that HB is crawling with "artists" of one kind or another, I would suspect that the gnomon may soon be "reinterpreted" as a readymade, in the style of Marcel Duchamp's urinal/fountain. The case of the guys who had a pillow fight on Tracey Emin's bed also comes to mind; in the postmodern artistic climate one can seemingly deface - oops, "modify" a work of art and claim artistic kudos for doing so. Maybe local creative types will seek to add their own aesthetic to the object, perhaps by spraying it bright green, or supergluing a life-size model of a climate protester to it. Not sure what the courts would make of such an action, mind....

From Anthony Rae
Saturday, 12 July 2008

If I may say: artistic criticism is one thing (always welcome, even if it is over-written); vitriolic abuse, bordering on the philistine, another.

But 'suggestions' or 'hints' that a work of art might be defaced or 'modified' - particularly in the context when this has already happened once, I'm told - is something else. No doubt the explanation will be that it's all very playfully intended.

And here we are in the middle of the Hebden Bridge 'Arts' Festival. These comments sit very uneasily alongside this other expression of the town's artistic standing, and do us no credit.

From Jack Hughes
Monday, 14 July 2008

Anthony, I had no intention whatsoever of inciting any acts of violence towards the detested object. If any of the umpteen local guerilla art terrorists who doubtless visit this forum were to be galvanised into dadaist or other anti-art action by my distinctly tongue-in-cheek post I would be mortified. Rather, I fear that it will simply wind up having "NV" or "42" scratched all over it, as half the valley appears to be. An equally likely scenario involves scrap-metal dealers and thermite - please don't say I'm provoking theft by saying this!

The sub-Banksy graffiti on the bus shelter a couple of months ago seemed to be positively welcomed by a number of contributors to this forum. I wasn't terribly impressed with it myself on an aesthetic level; I was even less impressed with the fact that the artist had also sprayed all the shutters of the public toilets opposite with his or her "tag". Presumably some poor minimum-waged soul had to come along and clean it all off. There's far too much stupid vandalism goes on as it is - three shop windows stoved in on Market Street on Friday night. No comments yet, I notice.

Personally, given that the media's current folk-devil appears to be knife crime (whatever happened to dangerous dogs?), I think that the gnomon reflects badly on this town's essentially peaceful and tolerant ethos. For another ten grand or so, do you think the artist might be cajoled into re-rendering it as a giant spliff? Or possibly a spoon?

From Anthony Rae
Thursday, 17 July 2008

Jack - there you go again, managing yet another ambiguous statement in your opening sentence: "I had no intention whatsoever of inciting any acts of violence towards the detested object".

I suppose it might be thought legitimate artistic criticism to characterise a new work of art as 'detested' - though I would think that sort of language is bordering on the extreme; presumably your later reference to the 'town's .. tolerant ethos' was just unconscious irony - but to immediately follow that with further remarks about action by 'guerilla art terrorists' or an 'equally likely scenario' involving 'scrap-metal dealers' takes you into another place.

You might believe you're engaging in 'tongue-in-cheek' commentary but I don't think you're deploying your 'criticial discourse' with sufficient discrimination. And the same applies to the similar comments in this thread.

If we are an artistic community we should cherish works of art, whether we like them or not. And not abuse them or drop hints about their damage or destruction. It's unsophisticated, and nasty.

From Oscar H
Thursday, 17 July 2008

Anthony, firstly this is not a 'work of art'. This is a crass intrusion on our space with no regard to its surroundings or suitability. As previously stated, this is born from nepotistic relationships which, I believe, leads to contempt, and an approriate reaction!

Several 'improvements' have occurred to the stone bollards throughout the unfortunate months they have occupied the square. I only hope these continue so they may be eventually reduced to dust!

It can only be assumed the same will happen to the unwanted gnomon! There are already numerous plans in place for its 'improvement'!

I think its wonderful that imposed and unconsulated 'art' becomes organic and open to to public alteration, at least we eventually get an opportunity to express an opinion!

From Anthony Rae
Friday, 18 July 2008

Oscar - thank you for proving my point.

Works of art to be 'reduced to dust!' And there I was, listening to the Today Programme this morning about the Bamyan Buddhas being similarly 'reduced to dust' by the Taleban. I hope we find the parallel enlightening.

As I said: unsophisticated, nasty, intolerant and philistine.

From Jack Hughes
Friday, 18 July 2008

Okay Anthony, just to clear up any perceived ambiguity, let me state categorically that I do not wish to encourage criminal actions towards the gnomon (informally known among local teenagers as "Robocop's c**k") by any itinerant guerilla art terrorists, scrap metal dealers, common vandals or any other human being. I'm holding out for an act of God - a lightning strike, maybe.

From Anne Handley
Friday, 18 July 2008

It seems this thread has become a place for artists to criticise the artistic merit of another artist’s work – quite vehemently, to the point of being nasty, as Anthony says. I thought public art was aimed at the public, not other artists. I’m sure the general public has a wide range of views about the sculpture, some of which might match those above, but many of which are not represented on this forum at all. And if nothing else, the sculpture provides a lot of visitors with a bit of information about local history that they probably didn’t know before – and maybe something to talk about other than how ‘quirky’ Hebden Bridge is.

From Jack Hughes
Friday, 18 July 2008

I count myself as neither a visual artist nor an art critic, but I'm afraid I still regard the gnomon as "neither use nor ornament". My entirely subjective and biased viewpoint is based on

(a) the fact that the shadow it casts bears no direct relation to GMT, BST, or even the long-suffering Crown Street clock;

(b) I think it's damn ugly. Surely I'm allowed to say that? (By the way, I think that the proposed Garden Street development would be a dreadful blight on the town too. Would anyone care to stand up for the architects' rights as "artists"?)

I am also concerned about its carbon footprint, which I would have thought would be considerable. Why didn't they just plant a tree? A nice straight poplar perhaps.

From Oscar H
Friday, 18 July 2008

No problem Anthony, happy to oblige. Whilst I find your analogy extreme, I see the 'enlightened parallel' in terms of the 'banksy' art that was produced on the bus shelter and the installation of the gnomon. Neither was asked for, neither was needed but both provoked reaction. For me the 'banksy' art was far more relevant than the 'clutter' now placed in our square.

The 'banksy' art was removed quickly, the square clutter will take longer.

Surely you can see the irony in the fact that we are unable and unwilling to provide a youth venue, yet spend thousands of pounds on pointless icons which will inevitably attract their attention?

'Unsophisticated' – perhaps; 'Nasty' – no; 'Intolerant' – definitely; 'Philistine' – subjective

If you see the clutter in the square as 'art' I implore you to expand your experience!

From Julie C
Saturday, 19 July 2008

It's dangerous too. I've seen kids trying to scramble up it. A friend saw someone trying to slide down it - the injuries this particular knife could cause would be horrendous. The new playground in the Park has special safety surfaces; there are only cobbles below the Knife. It's a definite Health and Safety hazard. Why wasn't this looked at by Councillors and Officers?

From Andrew Kim
Thursday, 31 July 2008

I don't think the needle itself as a sculpture represents the funky, playful soul of Hebden Bridge but what single work could? Yet there it is, right in the centre of town, pointing so rudely. I propose that we as a community (and the Hebden Royd Council) allow people to gently (not permanently) dress the needle in fun and creative ways. Maybe it wears a smart hat one week, a bow tie the next and then becomes an unbalanced Christmas tree or a skinny rubber duck with a number on it in the proper seasons.

There's a great public sculpture in Seattle which is regularly dressed by anonymous artists. This says so much more about the sense of play in that community and has nothing to do with criticising or defacing the art. There are even agreed upon rules about decorating this piece - see this

Hurrah to the Red Shoe decorators! Power to the people who tied the green and orange ribbon on the needle! More please! This is the joyful creative energy which makes this an exciting place for me to live.

(Speaking of which, does anyone know what happened to the giant hand-painted umbrella which was gently fastened to the top of the needle during the Handmade Parade? If anyone has a photo of this, please email it to me.)

See also

Hebweb news - Fustian Knife unveiled (June 08)

Forum threads

Square sculpture

The Square


Stone Effigies

No! to Sun Dial in the square


Hebweb news June 2008: Fustian Knife sculpture

Planning Watch