Fine art of distortion

By Jeremy Miles

AS controversy raged over a £70,000 public sculpture being provided as part of a development near Boscombe Pier, a few miles across town Bournemouth University was quietly celebrating its own new artistic acquisition.

This too is a sculpture and, like the Boscombe work, at least partially made of granite. But there the resemblance ends.

Unlike the seafront work by Wiltshire artist Simon Hitchings, which for no apparent reason was earlier this week lambasted as a "useless and pointless pile of rocks", no one had a bad word to say about the new university piece.

Standing in a courtyard at the centre of the Talbot Campus, it is a visually arresting creation called Wind, Stone - Earth and Sky crafted by the internationally esteemed Japanese sculptor, Koichi Ishino. It is a stunning piece of work that has impressed all who have seen it.

What's more it is a gift - commissioned specifically for the university by a generous benefactor, Sibyl Fine King who donated it through the Fine Family Trust. It is believed to have cost around £30,000.

Ms Fine King, who lives in Poole, decided to donate an art work to the university after hearing vice-chancellor, Professor Paul Curran, speaking at the opening of the 2006 Art Loan Exhibition. She was struck by his comments about the inspirational effect art on campus can have on students.

The resulting sculpture, a vision in polished steel and stone, now sits proudly outside the university's Sir Michael Cobham Library. It is the latest development in a 20-year series of works by Ishino which explore how combining contrasting materials can express fusion and harmony by amplifying their differing qualities.

Its choice was a unanimous decision made after a long search by a selection committee consisting of Ms Fine King herself; artist and consultant, Brian Graham; the deputy chair of the university board, Giles Sturdy; curator Julie Herring; and the university's secretary and registra, Noel Richardson.

In all they considered the works of 24 sculptors and made the final selection from 15 suggested submissions. Despite being offered a number of pieces of exceptional quality, choosing the Ishino was not a difficult decision to make.

"We looked at many works from various artists but when we saw the maquette for Ishino's piece there was an instant and intense buzz of excitement around the room. Everyone seemed to feel immediately connected to it," says a delighted Fine King.

Describing the work as "inspiring and beautiful" she said: "It immediately captivated us with its precision, the exquisite quality of the workmanship and its message."

Ishino Koichi, she said, had told her that his sculpture was about tension, fusion and harmony.

"Isn't that what we all struggle with in our lives and our careers and don't you think it's the role of the university to explore and embrace these questions?," she asked. "This piece of art speaks to our souls as well as our minds."

Giles Sturdy, meanwhile, said he felt the work fitted perfectly with the university's stated vision for its future, reflecting "ambition, certainty and innovation."

He pointed out that its location, outside the library, had succeeded in siting the work at the heart of university life.

"I hope this will become a real iconic symbol for the university," he said.

"The real proof of course will come when students stand there and are photographed by it as they say goodbye to their friends."

Even before he spoke photographs were being taken. Indeed Ms Fine King's 10-year-old daughter Alice was particularly taken with the distorting reflections created by the polished steel. Like another Alice long ago she had discovered something that had the magic to make her either very big or very small. Like life itself.

© Jeremy Miles 2022