The Strangely Tangled Legal Battle Over a Series of Shark Sculptures Near the Antepavillion in London

While riding around London on his bicycle, the ever-curious CGP Grey (previously) came upon a foursome of rather aberrant shark sculptures near Islington and wondered how they came to be there.

As it turns out, the sculptures were deliberately placed in front of the Antepavillion, an arts collective that promotes independent thought through interactive artwork. These “anti-establishment” pieces include the SHARKS!, which were created by Jamie Shorten of Barker Shorten Architects. In fact, Shorten won the 2020 Antepavilion competition for this very work. Sadly, a city injunction arrived when only four of Shorten’s SHARKS! were installed at the Hoxton Docks on the River Thames in Hackney, London. The fifth and final shark remained in storage. The injunction spurred a flurry of legal entanglements that continue to this day.

But, four sharks had escaped. And the injunction didn’t require their removal. So, in the canal they stayed. While trapped inside, the final fifth looked on. Thus in this moment, the halted Sharks became the pitch-perfect presentation of planning permission versus artistic freedom as the paperwork grew from injunctions to witness statements, permission applications, briefs, reports on the history of art on the site, what “in keeping with the conservation area” means, queries of if Sharks! block the canal traffic, and arguments about if the very existence of the conservation area is, like an abuse of power, or a scam?

Due to the legal fight, the Sharks! were moved to friendlier waters up the river to the Islington Boat Club.

For months, Sharks! chilled outside the warehouse while the paperwork rained down, though Hackney did eventually get them double injuncted and forced back inside. Meanwhile, up the canal happens to be the Islington Boat Club, members of which apparently chugged by sometimes to watch the ballet, and who developed a soft spot in their heart for Sharks! and they had water rights in their section of the canal and so decided to offer their club as a new home. Antepavilion agreed to move the sharks contingent on the Boat Club promising to tell Antepavilion about any bureaucratic paperwork problems that might arise.

And the fight still continues. After graciously hosting SHARKS!, the boat club has asked that they be returned to their original home.

hey must be removed before the end of this month. Put back into the warehouse, held behind bars of planning permission paperwork, never to see the water again.

The Antepavillion is asking for help to keep SHARKS! afloat. They’ve even provided a template to use.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.