making art for the public realm: competition or commission

new project: new blog requirements.

i’ve kept a craft blog for many years but my habit is to post sporadically, usually at the end of a project, as documentation and a way of finally wrapping up, all neat and tidy. my previous field module required just the one blog post at the end of the project but the current one asks for more frequent updates.

so, to start, today’s research task was to identify 5 pieces of public art that in some way inspired us. one should relate to our discipline (in my case maker, a broad church), one should touch on something we haven’t yet explored, and one should be something we have criticisms of.

1. jeremy deller – sacrilege

a bouncy-castle stonehenge which toured the country. this work appeals to me in so many ways. my previous academic background is in archaeology, and my fondest memory of my digging days is a late-night party held in west kennet long barrow. the site is open to the public and we were careful to leave it as we found it, but the combination of transgression (of national trust mores) and participation in a communal gathering left a lasting impression that no number of daytime visits could match.

i’ve once touched the stones at stonehenge (which are ordinarily cordoned off) at a midsummer gathering, which gave me  a similar lasting memory. deller brings a national icon to the people in a way that is simply impossible if it is to be preserved for future generations.

2. heatherwick studio – bleigiessen

the sheer scale of this piece (142,000 glass spheres suspended on 27,000 high tensile steel wires; 15 tonnes of glass and just under a million metres of wire) inspires me – as someone who generally works small – combined with the story of its inception. while the space it occupies (at the headquarters of the wellcome trust in london) is immense, the access routes were the size of a domestic doorway. that’s some design constraints right there.

i wasn’t sure where to place heatherwick studio – as a collective, as designers, architects – most of their work is primarily practical in nature, but always with an overriding aesthetic that says “art” to me. we had a brilliant talk from neil hubbard last term about their design approach which really embraces process and materials. they’re in the business of realising ideas, which puts them firmly in the maker camp imho.

3. taro chieso – superlambanana

aesthetically i can’t relate to the 17-foot tall concrete and fiberglass mutant hybrid at all 😀 but it seems to be particularly successful in term of public art and has been taken to the hearts of the people of liverpool.

this is demonstrated by the proliferation and popularity of a flock of smaller customised versions that appeared on the city’s streets to mark the city’s tenure as european city of culture in 2008.

4. rachel whiteread – house

familiar but disconcerting , ordinary yet extraordinary, quirky and controversial. its construction and destruction were the subject of much debate among critics and the public alike.

5. ruthin art trail

this is my “could be better” work. i was alerted to its presence by discovery (always a good start, to stumble across something that irresistibly draws your attention). a small red tarmac circle on the pavement, set in metal and sparkling in the rain, a small jewel. i wanted to know why it was there.

the internet told me it was a marker for a sculpture trail – intended to encourage the visitor to stop, look around and appreciate the finer architectural points and hidden histories of the medieval market town.

in theory all well and good but the scale of the works (10-inch figures on rooftops, spy holes in walls/doors) seems too small to be effective. my second though was that the size of the work was due to the constraints of installing art in a historic town with many listed buildings, but i must admit my first thought was that it was due to lack of funds/ambition.

the trail hadn’t been fully installed on my last visit and appeared to be greeted with scepticism by locals. i look forward to revisiting the work as it’s completed to see whether the whole stacks up and if the spy holes are as effective as the much-enjoyed ones in the hayes in cardiff.


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