Controversial $320,000 sculpture will ascend and 'lift spirits'

The Ascension sculpture by Neil Dawson will be installed at Masterton's northern roundabout over the next few weeks.
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The Ascension sculpture by Neil Dawson will be installed at Masterton's northern roundabout over the next few weeks.

After delays, a cost blow out, safety concerns and outright anger, Neil Dawson's Ascension sculpture will finally rise above Masterton.

Construction has begun on the installation of the sculpture which will be suspended by poles and cables above the roundabout by Waipoua Bridge at the northern end of the Wairarapa town.

Two thirds of the sculpture's final $320,000 pricetag was funded by public money from two community trusts and a fundraising group raised the rest. The original 2015 cost projection was $250,000.

Work has begun on the installation with the sculpture expected to be up in October.
ILLYA MCLELLAN/STUFF

Work has begun on the installation with the sculpture expected to be up in October.

The price caused anger among some in Masterton who thought the trust money could have been spent on mental health, Life Flight and better services for senior citizens.

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Dawson said public art always caused controversy. Despite it being  a specialist area that involved meticulous design and planning, everyone had an opinion on it.

Neil Dawson believes there are abstract ways to appreciate public art.
KIRK HARGREAVES/STUFF

Neil Dawson believes there are abstract ways to appreciate public art.

Dawson's sculpture Chalice in Christchurch caused controversy for two years before it was installed, but now it was a valued part of the city, he said.

"My sculptures are designed to lift spirits and Ascension is specifically designed with Wairarapa's aviation history in mind. It also invokes ideas of the passage of time, both forwards and backwards which is linked to both Maori and European culture.

"There are abstract ways to appreciate public art, it is something to live with which you will see and appreciate in different ways over time."

The sculpture will be situated above the roundabout at the northern entrance of Masterton.
ILLYA MCLELLAN/STUFF

The sculpture will be situated above the roundabout at the northern entrance of Masterton.

Masterton District Council supported the project, but two councillors were against it from the beginning.

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Councillor Simon O'Donoghue declined to comment but councillor Brent Goodwin said he was still firmly against the project.  The pricetag seemed extravagant and he believed it was in the wrong place.

"Dawson himself has said that he prefers to have less visible support structures around his artworks because it gives a magic to them, as though they are floating in the air. The poles and cables could spoil the effect of this one.

"I also think it should have gone up closer to the centre of town. The council is talking about spending $4 million on upgrading the CBD so why put this where it is?"

Councillor Doug Bracewell had voiced safety concerns despite backing the project and said staff from the Mobil service station near the roundabout had told him the pedestrian crossing on the bridge already had an issue with distracted drivers.

"When I saw where it was going I thought it might not be the best spot. I thought it could be a distraction and cause concerns for traffic and pedestrians."

Project drivers the Aratoi Foundation are proud the sculpture is being installed.

Foundation chairman Bob Francis rejected concerns that is would distract drivers, and said people would soon see how much it would enhance the town.

"We worked with NZTA and an independent engineering firm to judge the potential driving hazards and they were very careful in assessing it was safe.

"It is about a year late but that will soon be forgotten. Once it is up I think people will really be impressed with it."

 - Stuff

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