Super Lambanana or Superlambanana: the original
Taro Chiezo’s iconic SuperLambBanana (SLB) made its first spectacular and somewhat controversial appearance on the streets of Liverpool in 1998 as part of the ArtTranspennine98 exhibition.
Chiezo had first created a model of the hybrid beast just four inches tall and that was brought to towering 17-foot life by local sculptor Andy Small, Julian Taylor, Tommy Reason and Ray Stokes.
ArtTranspennine created a trail of 30 art installations between Liverpool and Hull and SuperLambBanana – in a partnership with Tate Liverpool and the Henry Moore Foundation – was unveiled at that year’s Tate reopening.
Chiezo’s SuperLambBanana was intended as a fusion of thoughts about the future and the past at a time when Liverpool was leaving behind a rather troubled recent history to become a centre of excellence for medical science and hi-tech engineering.
Originally exhibited at a New York gallery, it took an ironic swipe at genetic engineering and, later, Liverpool-specific interpretations saw in it a representation of the city’s traditional role as a port, exporting Lancashire wool and importing Fyffes bananas.
Small and his team, based at the Bryant & May matchworks in Garston, created the beast on a 1:50 scale using eight tonnes of concrete, steel and wire mesh and a foam-filled steel base. The sculpture is hollow concrete built around a mesh structure, making it relatively light and transportable, yet hardwearing and resilient.
Lewis Biggs, now director of the Liverpool Biennial, was director of Tate Liverpool at the time. He says: ‘I’d seen Taro’s work in Tokyo and he looked to be a very good sculptor. So I commissioned him to create something new – but we didn’t know what he would come up with. The rest is history. It’s popular because of its quirkiness.
People can interpret it any way they like, that is the beauty of art.’
It was like nothing Liverpool had ever seen before and initial reaction was often confused. Its bright yellow glow attracted attention – often for the wrong reasons – but, after a renegade attack saw the SuperLambBanana painted with Friesian spots, Liverpool saw the funny side and took the giant sculpture to its heart. The penny had dropped.
At the end of ArtTranspennine the SLB was handed over to the Liverpool Architecture & Design Trust for safekeeping and was moved from its resting place adjacent to the tunnel ventilation tower on Mann Island, first to Williamson Square, then Spike Island, Wapping and – its current home – outside the Liverpool John Moores University Avril Robarts Centre on Tithebarn Street.