Within the City of London there is a carefully controlled visual language, with any advertising or branding subject to strict planning regulations. Working with Martin Creed to install his ‘Plastic Bags’ – a gaudy (but cheering) burst of colour – hanging amongst the tree branches of central Bishopsgate, Ioannou had to ensure that there were no logos, branding or advertising of any kind on Creed’s pieces.
Sculpture in the Square Mile
Within the City of London there is a carefully controlled visual language, with any advertising or branding subject to strict planning regulations.
Plinth took a rain-check on a drizzly tour of Sculpture in the City but were encouraged to return the following week by co-director Stella Ioannou for a lunchtime visit. Meeting under the Gherkin basking in July sunshine, Ioannou was confident that we couldn’t have picked a better day to stroll past the Cheesegrater and the Walkie-Talkie.
With just four works of art exhibited at Sculpture in the City’s opening year of 2011, Ioannou explained how it has grown in size and scope over the past seven years. This time round, sixteen artworks spread across the square mile. She felt that we were ready for something altogether more ambitious and challenging and kicked off the tour with Ryan Gander’s ‘Never has there been such urgency, or the Eloquent and the Gaga.’ This parachute drop of an Aid Kit seems to have wildly missed its mark but perhaps that is the point; a list of its contents is etched onto a metal plaque at its base, encouraging us to think about the people in need of this urgent delivery.
Mark Wallinger was adamant that his ‘Black Horse’ was not to be shown amidst any greenery or parkland and instead chose a corner site overlooking a road junction, as the perfect location. During our tour with a group from Hiscox Insurance, someone remarked that her colleague had walked past this life-sized sculpture of a racehorse for a week before he noticed it, wondering for a moment how it had arrived in the City.
Narrow lanes and pedestrian alleyways cut a swathe through the City and we follow one into a quiet courtyard, tucked behind the Gherkin. Beneath a tree is Nathaniel Rackowe’s upside-down exploding shed – by far the run-away favourite with the groups of school children, who have explored Sculpture in the City. Far from the traffic, its exterior references black tar or bitumen, while the luminous yellow interior is just the same shade as yellow road markings – with strip-lighting replicating the glare of cats’ eyes.
Also referencing the fabric of the city is ‘Reminiscence’ from Chilean artist Fernando Casasempere, who chose a quiet city square entirely surrounded by brick buildings for his sculpture made from porcelain ‘bricks.’ Ornate Victorian facades, geometrical art deco and ‘London brick’ buildings provide contrast to Casampere’s porcelain work. Fascinated by landscape and the environment, ‘Reminiscence’ also recalls Pre-Columbian art and the crumbling ruins of Chilean buildings.
Tucked away behind Fenchurch Street is a bustling pedestrian square full of cafes and restaurants, where Karen Tang’s luminous green ‘Synapsid’ has come to rest. Like a sci-fi invasion, it has something otherworldly about it and there is some speculation amongst our group about the Loch Ness Monster. By contrast, six and a half tonnes of dartmoor granite sits quietly to one side – an enormous slab which exerted a powerful pull upon sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA, who longed to work on such a perfect stone (discovered at his friend Leo’s Blackenstone quarry and dedicated to him) with no external marks or holes. The meditative nature of this work recalls the weft and warp of knitted fabric, as it ripples across the stone's surface.
Looping back around to Fenchurch Street, we pass be-suited Sculpture in the City hunters bending down to read more about their daily sculpture fix, before we arrive at a group of fiercely glimmering rocks, covered in a lustrous red metallic glaze. Bosco Sodi selected dried volcanic magma from Mexico, which he suspended on their narrowest points, sculptures which no one can resist surreptitiously stroking.
Rather than a white cube or a sculpture park, the buildings within the square mile often become an integral part of Sculpture in the City, as with Damien Hirst’s ‘Temple’: a giant bronze torso based on a toy anatomical model, which appears to be looking into the second floor windows of a quiet pedestrian square.
Next we cut through Leadenhall Market, a spectacular covered arcade with ornate Victorian ironwork and cobbled streets - rumoured to be the site of Diagon Alley, where Harry Potter stocked up on wizarding robes and wands. ‘Falling into Virtual Reality’ was commissioned from Recycle Group, who created a semi-transparent disc from recycled plastic mesh with a span of four metres, to be suspended high up, beneath the glass atrium. On closer inspection, this classical frieze of figures are all preoccupied with their tablets, phones and iPads, inviting us to consider social media as our new religion and corporate leaders as our gods and goddesses.
Rather than a white cube or a sculpture park, the buildings within the square mile often become an integral part of Sculpture in the City, as with Damien Hirst’s ‘Temple’: a giant bronze torso based on a toy anatomical model, which appears to be looking into the second floor windows of a quiet pedestrian square. Built on a domestic scale, looming behind the square is the metallic bulk of the Walkie-talkie.
Strolling past Gary Webb’s ‘Dreamy Bathroom’, with huge blobs of cream and marshmallow and healthy dose of Pop, we wander back past Lloyds of London, to the Gherkin and the end of our tour. Paul McCarthy was adamant that ‘Apple Tree Boy Apple Tree Girl’ could only appear here. These mid-century rosy-cheeked German figurines, depicting children perched in the bough of an apple tree, hint at the possibility of innocence and naivety to be exploited, from Hitler youth to contemporary teenage consumers. Balanced on an 18-foot high tree, McCarthy emphasizes the precariousness of these kitsch Adam and Eve figurines and their possible fall from grace.
Monoliths by Hirst and McCarthy initially grab our attention, but we all come away from the tour with an increased awareness of the texture and fabric of the City.
Monoliths by Hirst and McCarthy initially grab our attention, but we all come away from the tour with an increased awareness of the texture and fabric of the City. Having poured over Dartmoor granite and volcanic magma, everyday brick and stone gains a new lustre, while monumental buildings cease to function as backdrop and become an essential part of the work.
By Chloe Grimshaw