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Re Views: Artists and Public Space

by Louise O’Reilly, Edward Allington, Simon Read et al
Black Dog Publishing, London, UK 2006
182 pp., illus. Trade, $ 29.95
ISBN: 1-904772-20-X.

Reviewed by Alise Piebalga
University of Plymouth


Re Views: Artists and Public Space is a collection of articles and essays written by arts professionals in response to 10 successful, public art commissions by a visual arts commissioning agency, Artpoint. The 10 works selected illustrate a highly diverse and varied understanding of an artistic intervention within a public space from architectural contributions and research to a more conventional public installation.

Louise O’Reilly, the Artpoint’s director and artist, Edward Allington, have contributed with the two introductory chapters discussing the wider issues surrounding art in public spaces, such as the shifting definition of a public space and the motivation for the artists to venture outside the gallery and their workshops. O’Reilly found that the formation of new, exciting, and productive relationships was a mayor incentive for the artists to work outside the gallery, as the incorporation of different needs and desires leads to creative experimentation. Similarly, new environments can introduce new techniques and materials; for example, Bruce Williams replied that the commission for the Leicester Royal Infirmary in 1994 meant for him "a new Apple Mac and the opportunity to use the medical illustration department as a studio."

Diplomatic collaboration is at the core of all these projects, whether it is between the artist and the environment, as in the case of the research project conducted by Simon Read of the river Thames Path, or architects, builders, artists, and the council, as in the case of Jacqui Poncelet’s contribution to the New Arts Centre for Didcot.

However, most intriguing is the dialogue these projects develop between the public and the surrounding environment. For example, Louise Short involved schoolchildren in the development of Mothshadowmovie, an installation/movie/performance viewed by the community that helped to develop it. This environmentally orientated work aimed at re-establishing a relationship between the surrounding environment, in this case a local park, and the community. Sasha Ward’s stained glass screen installed for the Chaplaincy Centre at The Great Western Hospital, as noted by Hugh Adams, re-claims a confusing, cold, and potentially disorientating space and introduces an element of quiet contemplation, subsequently ‘humanising’ the environment. Peter Freeman’s Luminous Motion explores the dynamics and movement within public space, providing a memorable landmark and Peter Randall Page’s Ebb and Flow, a granite and water sculpture, directly affected by the surrounding environment, specifically the rise and the fall of the water level of a nearby lock, draws and mesmerises its viewers by its organic nature and form.

In crass contrast there are John Kippin’s evocatively haunting photographs depicting Greenham Common, a former United States airbase in Cold War Pastoral/SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). These images of stark military structures alienating the landscape like the leftovers of a giant’s picnic seem to comment on the preservation and destruction of the soul of our environment. As the artist himself noted upon a later visit that he still experiences the feeling of "violating a place that has, in turn, itself been violated."

John Kippin’s work, as well as the nine others discussed in this book, illustrates how diverse public art can be, from photography and sculpture to architectural solutions and research. Similarly, the subject matter and the choice of materials and techniques vary from commission to commission; however, each work shows creative experimentation and innovative approach to the understanding of public space and what it means to be an artist. O’Reilly in the introduction noted in response to Bruce Williams’ work "how much we need and want from artists." It appears that this beautifully illustrated book is not only an example of 10 successful public commissions but also a source that contributes to the wider discourse about our environment and what is public art.



Updated 1st May 2006

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