What are we to make of Anish and Boris’ plans for the ArcelorMittal Orbit (the big steel squiggle for the 2012 Olympics)?

It’s hard to take seriously something that shows up on the front page of the newspaper on April 1st. Particularly when you and your friend read the whole article and still can’t decide if it’s a particularly dull prank or an absurdly dull actual fact.

Which is a shame, as I’m normally fond of the bold, often shocking, simplicity and scale of Anish Kapoor’s work. I’d never seen any before the Brighton Festival last year, during which I was simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed by some of the pieces I saw. A lot of them sound better described than witnessed, perhaps because the BrightFest budget doesn’t match the grandness of vision of our Kapoor.

Anyway, I do find something striking about the Orbit, but I can’t see it latching into people’s minds for long. It looks like a cross between a tangle of string and a roller coaster. I suspect it will be exciting in the distance and no doubt overwhelming up close. I’m excited by the potential for large crisscrossing red bars gleaming above and around me.

But then you realise you can’t slide down it in any meaningful way. And you get a bit disappointed.

Plus it’s just a giant advert.

I don’t know what ArcelorMittal do (I suspect it isn’t chewing gum, though no doubt Wrigley’s are pleased with the accidental reference) but now I know the name (even if I have to concentrate to spell it right).

The main problem, of course, is that it’s a monument. A monument to nothing, designed by a post modernist.

The absurdity is clear.

Monuments are supposed to be these grand symbols. Something that means something and demonstrates it physically. The Statue of Liberty is probably the finest example. Something that meant freedom, and, the cliche goes, it’s the first thing an emigre would see before landing in New York. There’s a clear enacting of the symbol in that, even if it is a cliched lie that covers up the actual hardship of life in the New World as an immigrant then and now.

But we live in a world where meaning is fleeting. Any chance of it symbolising anything other than the steel it was made of is lost when it is named after the company that donated that steel.

It’s either a triumph of post modernity or a belated attempt at making something powerful undermined by a semiotic haze of indecisiveness.

And it doesn’t really matter which it is.

It’ll be a fun ride. It’ll look impressive. It may even stay there as a landmark of the revified East London for years to come.

But I doubt it’ll mean anything. And with out a simple, replicable sillhouette, it’ll be lost amid all the other metallic tangles of the era.

And if all else fails it means we’ve got a pretty cool oversized climbing frame.

And it’s red. So maybe it’s not so bad.

If only we could find something useful to do with Boris Johnson.


Illustration by Lucy.



Apparently what ArcelorMittal do is mostly pollute and pretend not to. So that’s a good start to the ‘Sustainable Olympics’.


About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by Justin. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What are we to make of Anish and Boris’ plans for the ArcelorMittal Orbit (the big steel squiggle for the 2012 Olympics)?

  1. Pingback: Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit and King Kong Boris | Duck and Rabbit

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