Art in a roundabout way

Site Gallery artists and their fairground ride
Site Gallery artists and their fairground ride
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ALONG a main road, down a back street, through a ginnel, and round the back of an abandoned warehouse where the bricks are crumbling, the glass has long since been smashed and weeds are growing everywhere...

ALONG a main road, down a back street, through a ginnel, and round the back of an abandoned warehouse where the bricks are crumbling, the glass has long since been smashed and weeds are growing everywhere...

Here, just five minutes from Sheffield city centre but in a secret location that feels like the edge of the world, sits this lonesome funfair ride.

“It was taken from Chernobyl,” says our guide conspiratorially.

“It never actually got switched on because four days before the funfair was due to open in 1986, the nuclear disaster happened.

“It’s been sitting in the abandoned town ever since until these three artists rescued it. Now we’re going to let people ride it right here in Sheffield.”

R i g h t...

Welcome, readers, to Site Gallery’s latest – and perhaps strangest – exhibition.

That guide is gallery director Laura Sillars and, while your Diarist remains sceptical such a contraption could have been swiped from the Ukrainian disaster zone – not least because two of the trio behind it are renowned art pranksters – she’s absolutely insistent it’s true.

“Why should it be a prank?” asks one of the trio, Ryan C Doyle, 31, of Detroit. “It took a lot of planning to go to Chernobyl but the hardest part wasn’t taking the ride but actually getting permission to set it up in the UK because of the health and safety laws here.”

Touché.

There’s a documentary running at the gallery itself charting the history of the project – and, it seems, it is for real.

That history then?

Ryan has long since specialised in creating art pieces which viewers ride, and believed liberating the Chernobyl attraction would be an interesting experiment.

Together with Italian-born, New York-based duo Eva and Franco Mattes – they claim they’re brother and sister although it’s ambiguous – he visited the city last August and swiped the merry-go-round before driving it to the UK.

Age had meant entire parts had rusted or were broken but they fixed it using scrap material including abandoned car seats, a baby buggy and springs.

Then, in October, they switched it on for the first time in a Manchester park.

“We told people it comes from a nuclear disaster zone,” says Ryan. “We said we think it’s safe but it’s up to you if you ride it. We wore overalls as part of the performance but there’s no more radiation coming from this than from the average building. Radiation is everywhere.”

He wants to show off the ride around the world but for now Site Gallery have brought it to Sheffield - only its second destination.

But...why? Is this art?

“Some people call a urinal art,” says Franco, 35. “I don’t tell people what to think. They decide themselves. I just tell them what I do.”

Laura thinks it is.

“I’ve wanted to showcase their work for years,” she says. “I’m certain this will interest people.”

And the Sheffield City Council health inspector currently assessing the ride, what does he think?

He shrugs. “I don’t think, I just make sure it’s safe.”

It’s part of a wider exhibition of Franco and Eva’s work which runs at the gallery until July 30. The ride, however, is only in place today and tomorrow, noon to 9pm. Visitors to Site will be walked to it.