Does Size Matter? The Case of the Luna Park Dinosaur

Having never seen the first installation of the Luna Park dinosaur on Southsea Common, Paris Ali-Pilling set out to see what all the fuss was about, and whether local complaints on social media about the price and size of the artwork were fair.

It’s a wet and windy Friday morning. I’m walking to a press launch to commemorate the ‘Luna Park dinosaur’ and the 40th anniversary of the Aspex Gallery. I’m looking forward to seeing the new ‘Southsea Dinosaur’.

In 2010, Studio Morison – comprising artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison – created a 16 metre high sculpture of an ‘ultrosauros’, a dinosaur that never existed. The sculpture found its home on Southsea Common, where it was greatly loved by many; sadly, not by me as I never got around to seeing it. Unfortunately, the dinosaur did not last, it burned down on 1st October 2010. At first, arson was suspected but just days after the news of the dinosaur’s demise first broke, the guilty party was found to be not local vandals, but an electrical fault. Now, 11 years later, the two artists and Aspex have joined forces to bring the statue back, in a very different way.

In the distance, a group of people are huddled together. I step onto the muddy grass feeling glad I’m wearing hiking boots, and head towards them. I’m greeted by one of the Aspex staff.

‘It won’t be long until the unveiling, grab a hot drink!’

I do, and soon the unveiling begins. And then it’s over as Heather Peak pulls a piece of cloth away with a flourish to reveal ‘The Southsea Dinosaur’ (see main image).

My first thoughts on seeing the statue are that it’s small, around 40cm in height. I’m not saying I thought it would be the same size as the original, but I was definitely expecting something a little bigger. On closer inspection, though, I can see it is a scaled-down replica of the original (judging by the pictures I’ve seen online of the first statue) and it looks good.

‘Right, you can use the QR code on the statue to access the augmented reality,’ one of the Aspex team tells me excitedly.

For people who aren’t tech savvy, augmented reality or AR is where your phone’s camera superimposes images and/or sounds in real-time so it looks and/or sounds like something is there when it isn’t. In this case, the augmented reality reveals ‘a full-size digital rendering of the original artwork’, accompanied by the sounds of the Portsmouth City Band who were at the original launch in 2010.

Of course I don’t have a QR code reader already on my phone, so I have to download one, but it doesn’t take long. However, I still couldn’t access the augmented reality as you can only connect to it via Instagram, which I refuse to download because I’m not a narcissist – just kidding (sort of). I don’t particularly hate Instagram, but I do refuse to have social media on my phone, so this feature doesn’t work for me. That said, I’m not sure I’m the tip of an iceberg on this issue, so most people will probably be fine and Insta-heads will love it.

Fortunately, I really like the statue so losing the augmented reality bit isn’t a huge loss to me, but I do wonder how many people will have the same issue I did. By only making it accessible to Instagram users, there will be people who only engage with half of the artists’ work. Then again, if everyone who can’t access the AR is like me and still prefers to engage with people and things ‘in real life’ rather than virtually, this might not be a problem.

So that was the launch, and although the weather could have been better, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I came home, wrote up some notes and got ready to prepare my story.

But then, a couple of days later, I’m on Facebook and I see a fair amount of local people talking about the statue. They don’t seem that impressed, but this doesn’t surprise me much – when was the last time anyone went on Facebook to say something overwhelmingly positive? 

What does surprise me is the nature of the criticism.

Some people are talking about the cost of the project: ‘What a waste of money. It will be covered in graffiti or urine by the weekend.’ 

Someone else said ‘Could someone please explain how you justify £35,000 for 40cm artwork’? 

Quite a few people start listing the things that the £35,000 could or should have been spent on. In fact, so many people complain that Aspex answers with the following:

‘We acknowledge that in these difficult times there is incredible need, however this sculpture has been supported by individual subscription and funding specifically for art, and we believe that it will bring joy to our community. We are pleased to say we are also supporting a youth programme which starts next week. So any young people interested in having a say on how arts funds are spent in our community should get in touch.’ 

The fact Aspex needs to comment reminds me that a lot of people assume public art is always publicly funded, in the same way as council services, therefore it follows that a public art installation ‘must’ mean a service area lost out. But that’s not what happened here. 

As S&C understand it, the project was granted just £5,000 by Portsmouth City Council from the Community Infrastructure Levy – a local authority fund generated by contributions from property developers to be used for infrastructure ‘needed as a result of development.’ This grant was also conditional, and was given on the basis that Aspex find the remaining £30,000 themselves. They crowdfunded for £10,000 and put together a successful bid for Arts Council funding. So, to clarify, no council services were lost or affected as a result of this statue being commissioned or made.

Will I go to see the statue again? Probably not on my own, because having seen it once I don’t need to see it again. If a friend or family member wanted to go see it, I would go again, but most of them don’t have Instagram because they’re not narcissists. Just kidding (sort of).

For the outraged of Facebook, though, I do have a question. How many of you actually went to see the statue, in real life, before you complained? Come on, be honest, or the god devil of social media will know you’re lying.

I would urge everyone to visit Luna Park – or as it’s been catchily retitled, ‘I stand for language. I speak for history. I shout for truth’ – particularly, if like me, you never saw the original. Or at least go down and see it before you go and complain about it on Facebook.

UPDATE: This story was amended following clarification from one of our readers that the original Luna Park dinosaur was not destroyed as a result of arson but an electrical fault.

Image by Paris Ali-Pilling


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