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So what if Easter Island has 600 of them?
By Tim Minogue

03 November 2002

They call the Isle of Wight "Dinosaur Island" because of its wealth of fossils. For the sculptor Clare Taylor, however, it deserves the name because of the antediluvian attitudes of some of its older residents and councillors.

In the summer Ms Taylor was commissioned to make a "life-size" replica of an Easter Island head for the botanical gardens at Ventnor, owned by Isle of Wight council. She spent weeks welding the 20ft piece from scrap sheet metal. It was duly erected on a clifftop, looking out to sea.

But this is Ventnor, crusty-colonel capital of the island. Local councillors declared it an "eyesore" and "a blot on the landscape", and said it needed planning permission. When a retrospective application for permission was made, the council refused it. So the head was taken down and now lies on its side, out of sight, by the gardens' compost heap.

Ms Taylor, 39, is furious. "The head was commissioned by a council employee, the curator of the gardens, in the first place," she said. "I let the council have it for £1,000, much less than it is worth, as it was an educational project on public display. The council refuses to return it and even talked about selling it."

As the work could be worth up to £20,000, that did not make her very happy. She is talking of suing the council for breach of contract.

The statue, made from scrapped cars, has rusted to match the ruddy colour of the Easter Island originals – 600 inscrutable heads carved by the Polynesian inhabitants up to 1,200 years ago. It celebrates the fact that the gardens have kept alive a species of tree from Easter Island that had become extinct on the island itself. "The point about its being made from old cars is that the islanders ruined the ecology of their island by chopping down all the trees – and we are destroying our environment with the motor car," Ms Taylor said.

Such talk cuts no ice with Albert "Buster" Bartlett, independent councillor for West Ventnor. "It had to go. It was erected without planning permission in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty," he said. "My personal opinion doesn't come into it. I abide by the views of the people I represent and they don't like it."

Ms Taylor, on the other hand, says she has had considerable support from islanders and points to the letters column of the Isle of Wight County Press, where opinion seems to be in her favour. One writer points out that there is nothing particularly difficult or obscure about the work: "This is hardly Tracey Emin's bed, is it?"

But it seems too difficult for some. One of the gardens' neighbours compared it to "an upturned skip". Mr Bartlett said: "It's just not appropriate in a botanical garden. It's not art, it's just a lump of rusty scrap iron. A botanical garden is for trees and shrubs, not statues. The curator stepped out of line. He will be admonished, and that's an end to it."

Mr Bartlett's attitude is the despair of Sebastian Peake, son of the late artist and Gormenghast author Mervyn Peake and a frequent visitor to the island. He said: "Ms Taylor has created an inspiring work which was sited appropriately overlooking the sea, redolent of the position such a head might have had on Easter Island. A botanical garden is a wonderful place for such a work. Yes, it is in sharp contrast to the neighbouring bungalows. But in no other European country would there be the slightest objection to it."

He said he intended to nominate Ms Taylor for the 2003 Turner Prize on the strength of the head.

The gardens' curator, Simon Goodenough, confirmed that he had commissioned the work from Ms Taylor, but refused to comment on the row. The council's official spokesman, however, said: "There is no dispute about this. Ms Taylor sold the head to us and it is council property. It is remaining in storage until a more appropriate place to display it can be found."

Yesterday there was news of a possible compromise. Officials are considering a suggestion that the statue could be re-erected by the river Medina in Newport: the only problem is that it would be able to glare at the offices of the Isle of Wight council's planning department. And that, Ms Taylor thinks, could be one irony too many for the councillors of Dinosaur Island.

What all the fuss is about.....

Doesn't surprise me at all...it's an island full of old farts.

Trader Woody

[ Edited by: Trader Woody on 2002-11-04 09:29 ]

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I dunno - It looks more like Bert from Sesame Street than a Moai.

And we all know... BERT IS EVIL!!!!

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