Hoxton singing sharks removed from Regent’s canal
PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 11:22 10 November 2020
Large singing fibre-glass sharks have been removed from Regent’s Canal in Hoxton after a last-minute injunction was granted by the High Court.
Hackney Council’s injunction claimed the sharks, an art installation designed by architect Jamie Shorten, amounted to an unauthorised change of use and breached planning control, which is in place to protect public safety and designated heritage assets.
Jamie, who has worked and lived in Hackney for over 30 years, expected the courts would rule in the council’s favour.
He said: “I just feel sorry for the people that won’t see them and, you can’t feel sorry for a bit of fiber glass, but I feel sorry for the sharks as well.
“Personally, I think we will do something else – (if) one door closes, we’ll find another opportunity.”
The architect, who runs a “little practice” in Well Street, plans to find a new home for his sharks, hopefully in Hackney, where he is less likely to “come across the big boot of the law”.
The 61-year-old took issue with what he believes is a “fairly limited” number of people making the decision to remove the art installation.
He has submitted a freedom of information request to find out how much the council spent on the case and who ordered the injunction on August 21, the evening before four of five sharks were lowered into the canal.
“I live up in Stoke Newington but my office is in Well Street and I’ve lived in Hackney for decades, it’s my home. I’m invested as much as anybody else in it,” Jamie said.
The architect is no stranger to planning applications, as it is an essential aspect of his work. Having done hundreds in Hackney, he says it is “always a struggle”.
“I just wish the system worked better for everybody, including the poor people who are having to administer it.”
Jamie thinks the council’s decision was impacted by its relationship with owner of Hoxton Dock’s Russell Gray.
Russell’s company Shiva Ltd set up the Antepavilion initiative, with charity The Architecture Foundation, to develop and display experimental structures.
Jamie won the Antepavilion competition this year and was awarded a cash prize and the opportunity to display his design of life-like sharks lunging from the waters of the Hackney canal.
Planning disputes have plagued the Antepavilion series since it started in 2017. The yearly competition also saw a rooftop structure in Haggerston called Potemkin Theatre served a demolition notice after it was built.
That is why the brief for this year’s competition asked designers to comment on planning disputes.
Jamie’s sharks were inspired by Oxford’s Headington Shark, an eight-metre fibre glass great white sculpture by John Buckley, which is seemingly crashing head first into house.
Oxford City Council immediately opposed the installation in the 1980s, but after a planning battle, it eventually gained permission.
However, Jamie said his design was never intended to “provoke Hackney”.
“It was there for fun, something joyous and silly,” Jamie explained, hoping the sharks might cheer people up during “difficult times”.
He continued: “I remember going to see the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace when I was a child and being completely enchanted by that idea of giant creatures in this park, so it’s kind of that idea.
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“I was there on site and a child about four years old came along and said ‘Wow, look at that.’
“I thought: ‘Well, my work’s done.’
“If you get that good a reaction from a child what else do you want? It’s fantastic.
“Lots of people had that kind of reaction, grown-ups and children.”
Jamie said as far as he knows, there had not been a single complaint about his installation
“Everybody loves them,” he said.
Hackney did not comment on whether there had been any complaints about the sharks or how much they had paid in legal fees to force their removal.
A spokesperson said: “While we fully support the arts and creative industries, this should not be at the expense of public safety or damage to designated heritage assets.
“Planning applications must be submitted so that a full assessment of developments can be carried out, and we have a legal duty to investigate breaches of planning control and take action where necessary.
“The High Court has endorsed the council’s planning enforcement approach to the Sharks! exhibition at Hoxton Docks.
“We now look forward to engaging with the owners of the site constructively through the planning application process.”
However, Jamie said: “He (Russell) could turn that into a block of flats and make lots of money but he’s not interested. (Russell) wants to do something interesting and creative.
“If you really wanted to outrage the decency and planning you’d be building large ugly lots of housing up and down the canal for example, which they have done.
“Hoxton Docks is one of the last footholds of what Hackney was, the bohemian creative spirit that lots of people came here for – (the council) are killing the thing that people love.”
Jamie also commented on the council’s relationship with Stik, a graffiti artist who worked with the council on a Holding Hands sculpture in Hoxton Square.
He said: “Stik’s great, he does stuff for charity and the like.
“But don’t forget Stik was actually a graffiti artist in the beginning, doing stuff which was basically without permission and now, Stik has become official art.”
The sharks were taken out of the canal by Hoxton Docks on October 25 and prior to the removal, Jamie said: “We might play some quiet but sad music while it’s happening and we’ll see how it goes from there.
“A lot of unexpected things happened this year, that was just one of them.”
Jamie Shorten runs Barker Shorten Architects in Well Street, founded in 1991.
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