Top Five Public Sculptures: On the Meridian, London

Viccy Ibbett, Public Catalogue Foundation Volunteer, has been walking ‘The Line’ and gives us her account of the fascinating contemporary sculpture on the Greenwich Meridian:

‘The Prime Meridian, or zero degrees longitude, or the Greenwich meridian, has long generated a mystic attraction to the area around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the Greenwich Observatory still stands. By international convention, the Greenwich meridian was chosen in 1884 to be the standard point of measurement for longitude and, by extension, international time zones. Greenwich, by dint of this association, is a place where Time itself seems to disintegrate: it is no longer the unassailable march of successive days or seasons, authoritatively documented by the hands of innumerable clocks; it is a constructed, arbitrary, mathematical solution, wedded to human history and ingenuity. Today, if you visit the area after dark, you’ll see that the sky is split in two by a green laser that demarcates East from West, the work of artists Peter Fink and Anne Bean. On the ground, due to the spectacular efforts of several artists, developers and dedicated local volunteers, you’ll find a treasure-trove of contemporary public sculptures and art projects, which document the Now at the international epicentre of Time itself.

Working my way south from Stratford, along the River Ley to Greenwich North, here are my top five public sculptures from along the Meridian. Most of my choices are featured on The Line, a sculpture walk conceived of by the Turner prize-winning artist, Mark Wallinger, famous in particular for his work, Ecce Homo, which stood on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

1. Network, Thomas J. Price, 2013

PriceThis large-scale bronze dominates the entrance to the Lee Valley Park, which nestles on the banks of a tributary of the Lee River. The park was empty when I visited, and the figure faced northwards towards the scrubby banks of the river. The sculpture is on loan from a private collection.

The choice of bronze and the monumental size of the figure, which stands at nine feet, combine to imply that the sculpture is a commemoration. He holds a tablet phone in his hand and, in his pocket, is the rectangular outline of a second tablet. His expression is concerned, his belly protrudes, and his posture is hunched over: a classic case of Text Neck. It’s a familiar sight: Price has certainly given us ourselves in bronze.

2. DNA DL90, Abigail Fallis, 2003

Abigail FallisConsisting of 22 shopping trolleys piled on top of one another and twisted into the shape of a double helix, this sculpture was commissioned by a supermarket chain on the anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure by Rosalind Franklin and her male colleagues. The sculpture is on loan from a private collection.

The message is simple and as clear as the ka-ching of a cash register. For playfulness and strength of purpose, this sculpture won me over immediately.

3. Sensation, Damien Hirst, 2003

HirstArt meets scientific education in this painted bronze situated on Cody Docks. The subject is obvious to anyone who struggled through anatomical drawings in pre-GCSE science classes: it’s a cross section of the epidermis, complete with hair follicles, sweat glands and blood vessels. The sculpture is on loan from a private collection.

Personally, I could take it or leave it. I mention it here as much for its situation as its intrinsic value. The sculpture is located on Cody Docks, the centre of an Arts led regeneration project masterminded by Gasworks Dock Partnership. Hirst’s sculpture benefits from its placement in the midst of the Cody Wild’s project, which is nurturing the natural flora and fauna along the banks of the River Lea. It is nearby the very heart of the Cody Dock’s development: a centre for artists and creatives including a café, gallery and studio spaces. Wandering past, late at night last week, I was lucky enough to bump into the project’s mastermind, Simon Myers, who expressed his pleasure that his project and that of Wallinger’s had coincided on this stretch of the river.

4. Vulcan, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1999

Vulcan by Eduardo PaolozziAnother monumental bronze. Paolozzi’s sculpture of the Ancient Roman god of fire and the forge stands at 26 feet tall. It is situated on the bank of the River Thames at the Royal Docks, keeping a stern eye on the northern base of Boris Johnson’s cable cars. The sculpture has been made available by Pangolin London.

The god is part man, part machine: his torso and limbs are constructed of gigantic cogs and levers. But, true to the mythology, he is lame: one foot swells bulbously and is planted on a higher ledge than the other. Like Price’s Network, Paolozzi’s Vulcan gives us an image of man’s dependence on machines; in this sculpture I wondered whether the god’s lameness is eased or exacerbated by mechanical interventions.

5. A Bullet From a Shooting Star, Alex Chinneck, 2015

Chinneck Image Credit Chris TubbsOn the lip of the Greenwich peninsula, set against the luminous backdrop of Canary Wharf, is Chinneck’s latest surreal public sculpture. An electricity pylon plunges, point first, into the earth between the towpath and the river. The sculpture weighs 15 tons and sits in foundations 25 meters deep. The sculpture has been put in place in time for this year’s London Design Festival. It is semi-permanent, but it is anticipated that the area of land it currently sits on will be the site of a residential development to take place over the next two decades.

I saw the sculpture at night, when the glass skyscrapers across the river blazed with such an intensity of gold electric lighting that they appeared as pillars of fire, the buildings’ frames almost invisible. Chinneck’s sculpture was urgent and exciting: it was as though, in order to deal with all that frenetic electronic consumption, a pylon had buried itself into the ground, earthing itself to let the electricity channelled through it pass away safely.’

Image credits: Photos of Network, DNA DL90 and Sensation by Viccy Ibbett; photo of Vulcan by Matt Brown; photo of A Bullet From a Shooting Star by Chris Tubbs.

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‘Für Das Kind’ at Liverpool Street Station

Viccy Ibbett, Public Catalogue Foundation Volunteer, tells us about a touching sculpture at Liverpool Street station, commemorating the help given to refugees in World War II:

‘In Liverpool Street station it is easy to miss my favourite of London’s public sculptures, Für Das Kind – or ‘For the Children’, a bronze of two children with suitcases that is tucked away by the entrance to the underground station. It is easy to miss not only because the sculpture displays such a regular scenario of commuters and baggage that it blends into the crowd, but also because real life commuters are liable to interpret the statue’s generous plinth as an invitation to hunker down beside the little boy with their own baggage while waiting for a train.

The statue honours the famous Kindertransport system that sprang up in the UK during the second World War. In the early years of the war, the UK waived immigration restrictions in order to welcome over ten thousand European children who were fleeing from Nazi persecution. Children who arrived in the UK were placed with a foster family and promised a sum of money should they succeed in re-establishing contact with their families after the war.

The sculpture has had a chequered history. The artist, Flor Kent, originally dedicated quite a different sculpture in 2003. Then, the sculpture occupied a more prominent place in the station and consisted of only the bronze girl, standing beside a monolithic glass suitcase, which contained actual artefacts brought over to the UK by children arriving by Kindertransport. Now, the sculpture has been relocated to its current spot by the underground station and features both a boy and girl, with smaller bronze suitcases.Fur das Kind_ViccyLast week I was touched to notice that the sculpture had been transformed again, and this time not by the artist but by an anonymous commuter. A profusion of red, pink and white carnations had been placed in the arms of the girl, and over the plinth. It was a gesture of solidarity with the refugees currently attempting to escape into Europe, whose plight was most recently thrown into relief by the discovery of the drowned body of a two year old boy from Syria on a beach in Turkey. The sculpture no longer functioned merely as a reminder of the generosity of the British public in the past; it demanded that today’s refugees are afforded the same basic human consideration. As a work of commemoration, and as a piece of social activism, the flowers affected a potent renewal of the sculpture’s original message.

This use of art to convey a pressing social need reminded me of the efforts of state-sanctioned artists during the Second World War, who were commissioned by the British government to record the war effort at home and abroad. Of these, Mary Kessel stands out for her delicate studies in oils of German refugees after the German surrender. In her diaries, written in Berlin at the time this painting was made, Kessel instructs herself to ‘remember for ever those things that war has made’. Today, art has again been an important element in the public response to the refugee crisis. Creative Collective for Refugee Relief is an online platform where artwork can be sold and the profits donated to NGOs working with refugees.

When I returned to Liverpool Street Station the next day (to get a sharper photograph), the flowers were gone. I was disappointed. I even considered updating them myself. But despite and perhaps even because of, its short-lived nature, the carnations decorating the Für Das Kind sculpture succeeded in their aim of reminding me and other passersby of the imperative that the British recollect their past generosity and re-enact it today. The Für Das Kind sculpture itself, and its availability for this sort of public interaction, was an essential conduit for this message.’

Image credits: Image within text by Viccy Ibbett. Featured image https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AF%C3%BCr_das_Kind.JPG

Testing the Photography of Sculpture: Pilot 3, Paisley

Having completed a photography pilot at York Art Gallery in July, we spent a day passing on the methodologies and specifications to photographer Iona Shepherd and PCF Coordinator Lisa Gillespie in advance of a second pilot project at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries. Here, Lisa Gillespie describes the work they undertook during their three days in Paisley:

A wide variety of sculpture from the permanent collection was photographed on display in the galleries and behind the scenes in a studio setting. The Curator of Art also obtained permission from the trustees of the George Wyllie Foundation for us to photograph sculptures in the museum’s current temporary exhibition ‘The Why?sman: Celebrating the Art and Life of George Wyllie (1921-2012)’.

We were fortunate in being able to photograph the majority of the sculpture on display on a day when the museum is closed to visitors and other works on subsequent mornings before the museum opened. The pilot highlighted some of the challenges of photographing sculpture in situ in a gallery setting such as changing light between shots from an atrium window. The problem was much less apparent on day 3 of photography when we reverted to typical Scottish summer weather with grey skies overhead!DSC01347Museum lighting could also be a challenge for Iona in internal galleries without natural light. We were assisted in photography by the museum’s very helpful technician who arranged for track lighting to be switched off when necessary. Working outside the museum’s opening hours allowed us not only to adjust the gallery lighting, but also meant that Iona’s photographic equipment didn’t obstruct visitors or necessitate gallery closures during photography.DSC01357Two sculptures from the George Wyllie exhibition were selected for photography. One of his signatory Question Mark sculptures was photographed at the entrance to the exhibition. Wyllie described his own art as ‘scul?ture’ because he said the question mark should be at the centre of everything. The other Wyllie sculpture photographed is a mixed media assemblage in two parts entitled ‘A Machine for Applauding Paintings with Critic’s Thumb Attachment and Mona Lisa’ (below). It provided a good example of kinetic sculpture for the pilot and we had Douglas the technician on hand to demonstrate it moving.STC_REN_PCFS17_01eThAs in the York pilot, we photographed an example of a ‘sculptural’ studio ceramic. Although it is proposed that mass-produced ceramics and pottery will be excluded from Your Sculpture, the stoneware bird form by Alex Leckie (below) is an example of a work that collections might consider should be included in the project.STC_REN_1984_260_01ThAt this stage in the development of the project, it is also proposed that reliefs should be excluded from the project remit. Paisley Museum and Art Gallery have a considerable collection of miniature casts of the friezes from the Parthenon in Athens by the Paisley born sculptor John Henning (1771-1851). This is another example of work that is excluded, but which curators may wish to be included in the project as it is regarded as part of the sculpture collection within the museum. We photographed an example of the museum’s Henning collection due to its importance to the collection.

On the final day of photography, Iona took multiple images of a work for photogrammetry to create a 3D image of the work. The work selected was a maquette (below) by the artist and playwright John Byrne for the set of his play The Slab Boys which is set in a Paisley carpet factory. It should provide an interesting example of photogrammetry for the pilot study.STC_REN_PCFS21_02ThWe are very grateful to Paisley Museum and Art Galleries for allowing us to carry out this pilot study. The sculptures and settings provided have highlighted a number of points for further consideration in the Development Phase of the project.

Image credits: Image at the top and of the sculptures by Iona Shepherd. Images of Iona working by Lisa Gillespie.