Superheroes in the City (SITC
Superheroes in the City (SITC '18)

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Superheroes in the City (SITC '18)

“It all begins with the artist,” reveals Stella Ioannou, co-director of Sculpture in the City. Stella’s taking us on a tour of 2018’s iteration of her ambitious programme which sees public art exist within, and against the unique backdrop of, the City of London – surely London’s only square mile where it’s quickest to get around on foot. Stella guides us through alleyways and churchyards to hidden nooks and crannies, mapping out the parameters of the arena at her disposal in much the same way as she walks with artists at each year’s inception. There’s plenty to negotiate and navigate – which piece should go where? Which piece can go where? Works often arrive by flatbed truck in the centre of the City – unsurprisingly, overnight sculpture installs are not unusual. The City is where it begins.

The SITC team achieved 50/50 gender parity for the first time this year across their installation of 18 works in this urban sculpture park.

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For 2018, we might add that it all began with women. The SITC team achieved 50/50 gender parity for the first time this year across their installation of 18 works in this urban sculpture park. The push was supported by Women: Work and Power – not a Marvel comic, but a new initiative from the City of London celebrating the anniversary of women getting the vote 100 years ago. Stella feels that working with women artists has brought something new to the programme – in particular to SITC’s new commissions, which are constructed from lightweight, transparent and apparently fragile materials such as fabric, Perspex and string.

Standing beneath the first new commission – ‘A Worldwide Web of Somewheres’ by Amanda Lwin, suspended from the roof of fourteenth century Leadenhall Market – we are all captivated. As one of our group exclaims, “it completely undermines what you normally think of as public sculpture. It’s really magical.” Resembling a tangled pile of fishing nets made from rope and string, this 12-metre long assemblage was handknitted by Lwin in her studio over a week before she tied it herself from the market’s cast-iron ceiling. Referencing London’s history as a maritime trading port, these ‘nets’ made from rope and string also describe the map of the worldwide web silently powering the City.

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Running alongside the site of London’s oldest Synagogue is another new commission: ‘Sari Garden’ by Clare Jarrett. A proposal, perhaps, for finding quiet amidst the City’s hustle and bustle, Jarret’s work flutters from the lamp posts which light up the Synagogue’s footpath in a 32-metre installation of brightly coloured fabric. A traditional sari is a six-metre length of cloth, worn wrapped around a woman’s body. ‘Sari Garden’, then, seems a nod to reclaiming the City as a female space; it’s certainly a persuasive argument for allowing new voices to sound in old institutions.

The need to be heard – and the importance of listening – is echoed in a sound installation by Marina Abramovic: Tree. Her work is installed amidst and above the thundering traffic on Broadgate where, if the cars screech to a halt or you’re paying attention, you might just catch a snatch of birdsong. First installed in 1972, Tree was placed then outside Belgrade’s SKC Cultural Centre – a building Abramovic and her fellow students took back from the secret police who had used it as a social club in much the same way as nature curls around an abandoned home. Re-claiming space under a Communist regime – asserting the importance of a space to think, work and create – must have been an incredibly powerful feeling. Tree’s new habitat might not be so politically charged as its first, but Broadgate is no less lacking a natural balance to the hand of man on its landscape than Belgrade was.

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Working within the City comes with a lengthy list of rules and regulations, perhaps the most archaic being those which strive to preserve the views and ancient site-lines of St Paul’s. Consequently, tall buildings are only allowed to exist within a certain cluster of the Square Mile. There, ever-more dazzling shards and cheesegraters compete to become the tallest and most slender tower made from steel and glass. This year, jostling for space with the skewers extending into the sky, three new SITC installations have appeared within ‘the cluster’ – amongst them, a jumble of ‘found’ animals by Nancy Rubin. These are tied together with metal wire to create Crocodilius Philodendrus. Resembling an upside-down tree, its branches appear to be made from crocodile tails and deer antlers. These are cast in aluminium, bronze and iron, and held together with tensile cables. Installed on-site, the statue required nerves of steel from the engineers and project managers engaged in this delicate balancing act in front of the Gherkin.

Tracking the movement of the sun across these surfaces, Bradley's fluroscent discs act like sun-dials, activated as they are by light and changing in appearance throughout the day.

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The ultimate rebellion against this vertical landscape, then, is to create a work at ground level. This was the approach of the final commission from Women: Work and Power, wherein Jyll Bradley researched the earliest glass buildings – intricate greenhouses, constructed in the early Eighteenth century – and etched their designs onto Plexiglass discs or ‘coins.’ Greenhouses were originally constructed to protect their valuable contents of new and exotic plants which arrived from all over the world. Currency was replaced by green growth, and Bradley references the City as, increasingly, a landscape of glittering glasshouses. Opening the Air references these newly constructed buildings and also alludes to the atmosphere of glasshouses – spaces where plants can never have enough daylight or ventilation. Tracking the movement of the sun across these surfaces, her fluroscent discs act like sun-dials, activated as they are by light and changing in appearance throughout the day.

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Following on from Damien Hirst’s ‘Temple’ at last year’s Sculpture and the City – a giant, painted bronze torso of a man – 2018 sees Sarah Lucas flex muscles with ‘Perceval’, a huge bronze horse-and-cart complete with shire horses. Stella Iannou loves how this piece plays with people’s memories and emotions of the kitsch ceramic figurines lined up on their parents’ and grandparents’ mantelpieces. She tells us that, “there’s always one person in a group who says – OH MY GOD, it’s one of those…”

Fragile nostalgia and solid bronze collide in Lucas’ piece; at this year’s Sculpture in the City, nothing is as it seems. As Women: Work and Power – and wider cultural shifts like #MeToo and #TimesUp – push against the doors of the City’s hallowed halls, it seems a fitting moment to look forwards. Perhaps at SITC 2118, gender parity will have become the norm rather than a cause to struggle towards. Initiatives like Women: Work and Power strive to have the world see women as the superheroes they have always been – beyond their 2D comic-book renderings, manifest in flesh, blood and bronze.

By Chloe Grimshaw

Sculpture in the City is an associate programme partner to Nocturnal Creatures, a one-night-only (July 21st) event from 6pm until 11pm, which will see tours and talks from many of SITC '18's artists and performances from 4 composers involved in Musicity x SITC. More details and tickets here.

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