Wednesday September 13, 2017

'Art is subjective': British town councillor defends floral Princess Diana tribute

The Chesterfield Borough Council unveiled this floral 'well dressing' tribute to the late Princess Diana.

The Chesterfield Borough Council unveiled this floral 'well dressing' tribute to the late Princess Diana. (Chesterfield Borough Council )

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When the British town of Chesterfield revealed its floral tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, onlookers couldn't decide if it was scary, funny or just plain offensive.

On Facebook, people called the volunteer-built arrangement "hilarious" and "horrendous." One person called it "an insult" to the late princess, while another asked: "Why does this look like it's about to devour me?"

But Chesterfield Coun. Steve Brunt says all art is subjective. He defended the gray-toothed, dead-eyed, pink-lipped creation in an interview with As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of that conversation:

Mr. Brunt, what was your first reaction when you saw the floral tribute to the Princess of Wales?

I thought about the hard work that 14 volunteers have put in to create it. It's not an easy job. It's not an easy task. They picked the commemoration of Princess Diana because she's well respected by the people of Chesterfield and, of course, the nation and internationally. 

And what was your reaction to the image itself?

When they were doing the well dressing last year I went down and had a go, and it's a notoriously difficult, finicky little job to do.

And do you think it's successful?

I think it's obviously created a talking point. I'm talking to you in Canada, in that wonderful country. And we've had lots of comments from Australia, from New Zealand, America. I believe it's over a million hits it's had now on our website.

diana in flowers

As It Happens host Carol Off says floral Diana's hair looks OK, but the face is 'a bit odd.' (Chesterfield Borough Council)

But it seems to have created a talking point because people think that it's just simply awful.

No, I wouldn't agree. Not all the comments follow that line. A lot of the comments recognize, as we do on Chesterfield Borough Council, the dedication of the volunteers, the work they do and how difficult it is to do it.

So the hair looks fairly successful, but the face, I guess, is the big issue. It's kid of odd, isn't it? What is the face actually made of?

Well, it's a mixture — carnations, chrysanthemums, cow parsley, grass seed, rowan berries, and eggshell.

Why do you think her teeth are so grey? What are the teeth made of?

I'm not quite sure.

And then the lips are this kind of odd colour of pink. 

They certainly stand out.

the mouth

They do stand out, yes.

We've had several comments about the eyes as well.

Because there's a big black line around her eyes. But they're very striking, aren't they, these eyes?

They are, they are. 

the eyes

It was a well-intentioned piece of work done in the best interest of everyone, and the volunteers that did it, we can't praise them enough.

How are they are feeling about the fact that there has been a lot of criticism about this image?

Well, I would imagine that they're not feeling too pleased.

Now, it's interesting that there are other cases where there are portraits that became controversial because they were strikingly strange. Like, there's this portrait of Jesus that's in a small town in Spain that became so controversial people go to that town just to see that image.

That's correct, that's correct.

I mean, you're the seventh media outlet that I've spoken to over the last six or seven hours and we will get more people coming into Chesterfield to see it before it's taken down on Saturday.

hi-spanish-fresco-852-03152

This combination of two photos shows the fresco of Christ before and after amateur artist Celia Gimenez took it upon herself to restore it in the church in Borja, Spain.

And it's OK if they're coming from all over the place even if they're mocking it?

Even if they're mocking it. I mean, all art is subjective.

I remember a lady, a famous artist in this country, getting out of bed, not making her bed and putting it on display and calling it a work of art. That was Tracey Emin and, you know, what do you think of that? 

Tracey Emin

Chesterfield Coun. Steve Brunt compared the floral princess to Tracey Emin's 'My Bed'. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images, Wikimedia)

I woudn't have thought it's a work of art, but it's subjective and it's people's opinions and we value everyone's opinions.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Coun. Steve Brunt.