Sunday, July 17th 2016
It is once again the season when the City of London turns into an outdoor art gallery as it celebrates its annual event, Sculpture in the City. Some weeks have been spent in installing the sculptures but that process is now complete and so we went along to take a look.
In last year’s Sculpture in the City 2015 there were 14 works. This year’s list contains 20 items. However, of these 20, four (numbers 3, 5, 10 and 19) are parts of the same work (see number 3 below) and number 17, Solar | Relay by Petroc Sesti, is mysteriously shown as ‘no longer on display’. We might also note that sculpture number 20 also appeared last year, with the same title and in the same location, then at number 14.
The sculptures appear in various positions around the City but a map is provided to help you locate them. Beside each sculpture, there is an explanatory label and a copy of the map. This information also appears online. There used to be a proper map but this seems to have disappeared and to have been replaced by this map page. Notes on the individual works can be found on the page entitled About the Artworks. These notes need to be read when viewing the photos for a better understanding of the works and, for convenience, I have included them, in italics, under each picture. (These pieces of text have been copied and pasted from the Website. Thus any peculiarities of spelling, grammar and syntax belong to the original.)
For each sculpture, I have given three or four pictures, arranged as an animated Gif slideshow. Sculptures are 3-dimensional objects and, to be appreciated, need to be seen in the round. I hope that providing several views, though it does not do the sculptures full justice, will at least give some impression of them. Under each sculpture I show the work’s title (in bold) and the name of the artist and date of the work (in italics).
As a direct reference to the painting ‘La Victoire’ by Rene Magritte, ‘Ajar’ is a surreal gateway: a spiritual journey through the imagination, an interactive sculpture that children will enjoy as much as adults. It is a key to the imagination: unlocking ideas of the infinite as mused on by Aldous Huxley quoting Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
It simultaneously references both Duchamp’s work ’11 Rue Larrey’, a corner door that is always open and shut and a Bugs Bunny sketch, where a door in a frame freely stands on a cliff in a landscape. ‘Ajar’ is placed without walls and is permanently half open encouraging the choice to go around, or go through.
The original ‘Fire Walker’ is a fragmented, eleven-metre high ‘anti-monument’ created by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx in response to a commission by the City of Johannesburg in 2010.
Associated with that metropolis’s market culture – a melange of sights, smells, nationalities and generations – it depicts the silhouette of a female street vendor carrying a burning brazier on her head. The usually immigrant, homeless ‘fire walkers’ sell pieces of coal to other market vendors and are among the most impoverished of the city’s urban labourers. As the viewer passes the sculpture, the figure either becomes briefly aligned at an optimum viewing point, or dissolves into dislocated, abstracted shards, as torn as the rags of its original subject’s dress. This shifting quality challenges associations between public sculpture and monumentality and speaks to the itinerant, precarious nature of ‘fire walkers’ lives.
Lizi Sánchez’s practice reflects on the emergence of modernist abstraction, combining this with references to confectionary brands, party paper chains, and articles of mass consumption. She uses common quotidien ubiquitous items such as packaging or building materials, looking ‘at making and production in a market–driven world where surface, style and presentation seem to be the ultimate end’. The artist re–purposes these materials, employing handmade processes that ‘imitate, but essentially contrast with those of the mass market and the glossy high–end manufacturing of art production’. In this case lead is cut into loops forming interlocking rings. Brightly coloured and a domestic scale, these pay homage to modular sculpture, but contrast this with their reference to homemade decorations, a motif recognised across all cultures, nations and historical periods in social gatherings and celebrations, in colourful embellishment of the everyday.
Ugo Rondinone’s series of twelve giant masks – each named for a month of the year – are at once monolithic and ghostlike, their massive bronze forms offset by a shimmering silver patina. Set on top of concrete plinths, the globular, elongated heads express distinct moods – variously smiling, menacing and doleful – and pick up on Rondinone’s recurring motif, the mask. The sculptures also resemble primordial totems, in particular the gigantic stone heads of Easter Island; and their mythic titles enhance this subtext of archaic pagan ritual. At the same time, the works are playfully anthropomorphic – the expressions taking on a cartoonish air. Their finger-pitted surfaces emphasise their human crafting – reminding us of the gradual process of clay modelling out of which they arose.
Recycle Group reflects on what our time will leave behind for future generations, what artefacts archaeologists will find after we are gone, and whether these artefacts will find their place in the cultural layer. As their name suggests, the duo is concerned about the rising level of material waste as a byproduct of widespread consumerism, creating work through the use of recycled materials. Their works also “recycles ideas”, drawing upon classical Western traditions such as narrative relief carving and Christian iconography to compare contemporary times with other histories – social media with religion, corporate leaders with kings, and online existence with mausoleums. The artists’ latest installation created for Sculpture in the City features a scene of a person falling into the virtual world executed in traditional saint-like image in mesh bas-relief. The mobile gadgets act as an emphasis that technology has on the modern world and questions yet again the idea of virtual archeology. The work draws inspiration by the futurist novel, Simulacron 3 (1964).
The colour of the bronze cubes of ‘Axis Mundi’ is predominantly ultramarine blue, divided into three translucent chromatic shades, which create an ascending, changing rhythm on all sides of the sculpture. The cubes are stacked one on top of the other to produce an open-ended vertical, whereby their mutual similarity emphasises a dynamic, upward thrusting pattern. The term “axis mundi – world axis” refers to a universal symbol, which finds its origin in anthropological and theological interpretations of the vertical bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth – representing a site of spiritual energy.
The abstract minimalism of the sculpture as well as the pictorial quality of the ultramarine colouring emphasise its unique energy in any chosen dialogue with architecture and nature. Art, science and pure sensation unite in the abstraction of a seemingly endless vertical.
Huma Bhabha’s ‘The Orientalist’ is cast in bronze, reminiscent in its authority of a king or deity. Traditional and futuristic, Bhabha’s regal figure is an impressive vision from a fictional history. The title of the work conveys ideas of exoticism, which contributes to this imagined narrative.
Humanised through exaggerated hands and feet and sympathetic cartoon styling, its powers waver between the comically surreal and powerful. The ambiguity of the figure impresses on the viewer the complexity of human nature – being both powerful and frail – and in this way is characteristic of Bhabha’s work. Formed from clay, chicken wire, Styrofoam and found objects that Bhabha skilfully manipulated into a fantastical figure before it was then cast in bronze, ‘The Orientalist’ is imbued with the touch of the artist.
‘Aurora’ was made using a tank which was originally a floating buoy used as an anchoring point for ships in the ocean – it came from a naval salvage dealer In Portsmouth. Anthony Caro fell in love with it brought it to the studio where it sat for three years before he finally formed it into a sculpture. He had never used anything so large or volumetric before. The two elements at the bottom were rolled elements to make them feel like waves. He tried several colours before his painter wife Sheila Girling eventually came up with the idea of that vibrant red.
The sculptures exhibited are part of an ongoing series based on the stars and constellations called ‘The Star Series’. Found and fabricated parts are transformed into new configurations. They are not ‘illustrations’ but draw on mythology, astronomy and astrology across many ages and traditions.
‘Centaurus’ The constellation probably refers to the ‘good centaur Chiron, the healer’. The sculpture went through many stages before its conclusion; the stone was found on the property at Nether Farm, where the artist lives, and the heavy solid steel came from a factory in Sheffield. Combined they produce a totemic image of considerable primitive power and ‘animism’.
‘Camelopardalis’ (The Giraffe) Refers to the Camelopardalis constellation, the sculpture’s placement in the city will draw the eye upwards beyond the surrounding architecture, symbolically linking earth to the heavens. The addition of the long ‘neck’ form gets to the essence of the idea and seems to defy gravity.
‘Of Saints and Sailors’ originated from a transatlantic journey on a cargo ship carrying wood pulp from Uruguay to the Netherlands, where the artist joined a fraternity of 19 Filipino men who lived at sea. Through intimate daily sittings, Pietromarchi modelled busts of the sailors in clay.
Pedestals adorned with chains and engines of the sea yoke the men like barnacles, evidence of the hermetic world they inhabit. Their heads sit on top of weather-beaten machines of industry. The busts represent individual souls and a single collective existence in a sealed universe, a society of men whose work is invisible to the world and whose lives are shared only with each other. They are evocations of the time the artist shared with these men, and poems about the act of labour shared by artist and worker alike.
Enrico David’s “Untitled” is an unsettling example the artist’s unique anthropomorphic surrealism. Cast in bronze, the work depicts a smooth, expressive skull atop an unrefined stalk of a body. Arms and legs don’t appear to be missing but rather unformed, as if they’ve yet to emerge from the figure’s craggy, elongated torso. Originally the outcome of “gutting” another sculpture in the artist’s studio, the extraction, upon finding its natural cranial counterpart, grew from a husk into something disquietly corporeal.
This leaning work appears trapped in a state of perpetual eavesdrop and seems supported entirely by its face bolted uncomfortably to the adjacent wall. The metamorphic nature of “Untitled” is further exemplified in its materials: the patina is done to imitate the rusting of cast iron instead of conventional bronze. It will change in accordance with the surrounding climate, suggesting an inherent liminality in addition to the figure’s malformed body.
During the Winter of 2010 the cupola of the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted a specially commissioned light installation by British artist, Mat Collishaw. A grand scale zoetrope visible from the street below, created the effect of moths fluttering within the dome around an oversized lantern. A smaller replica of the crown cupola zoetrope in the courtyard was lit during the day, providing a close-up view of the moths in flight.
About the commission, Collishaw said: “As the Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s greatest art and design museum, I wanted to create a work that reflects the V&A’s standing as a monument to cultural achievement. The illuminated cupola represents the Museum itself as a beacon of light to which objects of beauty, activity and life are drawn.”
‘Laura’ is part of Jaume Plensa’s on-going series of portraits. Each sculpture is drawn from a particular model of a young girl, whose image is then elaborated into a more universal symbol for dreaming and aspiring. Part of the technical process involves photography. The essence of the photograph – a moment caught in time – belies the architectural volume of the final form.
‘Laura’ hovers between childhood and nascent womanhood, personifying an individual future and being symbolic of the future of humanity. Each sculpture has a spirit that communicates to us across cultures and identities. When the viewer first sees Laura, her silhouette stands out against its surrounding, but when the viewer moves closer Laura appears to shift her orientation. The play on form and perception and a slippage between volume and image are part of Plensa’s great contributions to postmodern sculpture.
Over nine metres tall, Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture presents a bronze deciduous tree bearing the fruit of five river stones, nestled within its branches. The bronze encapsulates the memory of the tree, memorialising and extending its life as it appears to rise out of the ground, undeterred by the weight of the boulders. Both the tree on which the sculpture is based and the river stones are local to the artist’s studio in Northern Italy.
Since Penone’s earliest works from the 1960s, trees have dominated his practice. According to the artist, “the tree represents the first principle and the most simple conception of vitality, nature and sculpture. It represents a live, fluid form.”*
*Pacquement, Alfred, ‘Ideas of Sculpture’ in Giuseppe Penone: Prospettiva Vegetale, ed. Arabella Natalini and Sergio Risaliti (Florence: Forma, 2014), 88.
Sarah Lucas’s bronze sculptures Florian and Kevin depict giant marrows, and are among the largest in a long line of bronze casts by the artist. The marrow functions as a symbol of growth, fecundity and the English pastoral tradition – evoking Harvest Festival cornucopias and country fair competitions. Polished to resemble gold and enlarged to monumental proportions, the vegetable is rendered simultaneously monumental and comic, austere and subtly absurd. In title as well as shape, each work is anthropomorphic – implying a body snaking or lolling on the ground. In their majestic stature and smooth contours, these pieces moreover recall the scaled-up casts of Henry Moore – seemingly figurative, and yet suggestive of a host of other organic or natural forms.
Site-specific installation Broken Pillar #12, is part of a body of work developed over the last five years, by Shan Hur. As part of the artist’s practice, Hur incorporates found objects, usually relevant to its location within these structures, encouraging the viewer to question the world around them and the objects hidden within it. Adapted to its surroundings at St Helen’s Churchyard, Broken Pillar #12 is a unique interpretation from the series, unveiled for the occasion. Hur’s previous public placements include ‘Berkeley’s tree’ – the façade of Berkeley Square House, London, UK and ‘A New Column for Manchester’ with the Arts Council of England – Manchester, UK, 2014.