Perspective

Public Art: Moments not Monuments

Our founder and global Creative Director, James Burke, has created a written exploration of Public Art, sharing his thoughts on the pivotal role Art plays in the representation of our times and our collective consciousness.

By
James Burke
Date
23.06.2021

As a studio, we are committed to exploring what constitutes success and positive impact in the realm of public art. On this journey our ultimate goal is to find ways to make meaningful connections with viewers through tangible interactions that offer a sense of ownership of the environment, transmuting ‘space’ into ‘place’ through individual experience and meaning.

To stand back and watch the dance play out between art and viewer is perhaps the most rewarding part of the process for us as creators.

Art is a representation of our times and our collective consciousness.

Public art confronts people in their shared environments.

When interacting with a piece of public art one hasn’t chosen to enter the esoteric institutional gallery space where the traditional rituals of ‘going to see art’ unfold. There you have come specifically to engage with art and so enter into a contract with space, artist and artwork where the game is then played out with its own rules, conventions and systems of control.

Take this narrative away and art (in the public space) has a slightly different job to do. As such, there is an opportunity with public work to take interaction one step further and give people an opportunity to participate in the experience in a more holistic way that transcends simply contemplating the work in the traditional gallery sense. Here, the work becomes the facilitator, placing the present moment front and centre of the experience, offering tools to create new realities and new moments in an almost architectural sense. This sense of ownership happens in two ways; baking interaction into the conception of the work through collective dialogue and making work that invites physical engagement.

We as artists play the role of facilitator, empowering those who wouldn’t usually have the outlet to express themselves in this way to create personal and lasting legacies.

Collective dialogue and public consultation

The spirit of collaboration is incredibly powerful when harnessed in the right way and is central to the creative philosophy of our studio. Listening with both head and heart in order to gain valuable insight is essential to telling authentic stories and it is these gained narratives, placed through the lens of our creative expression, that form the essence of our public projects.

As such the process becomes a collaborative experience where we as artists play the role of facilitator in order to empower those who would not usually have the outlet to express themselves through art to create personal and lasting legacies.

To do this, room needs to be made for meaningful dialogue with all relevant stakeholders of which perhaps the most important of all are the people who will actually use the space and live with the work.

As artists in the public space, we have a responsibility to engage in dialogue with the community who we ultimately serve through this sphere of work. At this level, we become an illuminator of that collective consciousness and this responsibility should be accepted and seen as a driver to make honest work that speaks authentically of the environment in which it sits. If an alien were to land in a public space and see a piece of public art - what would it say about the people who live there?

By serving the community, art becomes a powerful facilitator for shared experience and cultural narrative.

Interactive Spaces

Public spaces are increasingly less and less free - in the purest sense. Limitations are placed on where we can go, how we get there, what speed we have to go at, what we can do once we get there. Everything is tightly controlled in a bid to maintain order and cooperation. In fact, we are so used to these limitations that we don’t even notice them anymore, such is their ubiquity and seeming normality.

So public art gives us a rare opportunity to jog the system, create a glitch in the matrix. It affords us rare license for the expression of essence without a specific agenda of physical control. Public work creates the space to explore, interpret and move at your own pace, rejecting predetermined objectives in favour of a subjective and personal experience.

Inviting interactivity plays a key role in achieving this. How do you create the building blocks for new experiences to unfold? What if through interacting with the artwork you encourage a heightened level of presence with the world around you - a jolt out of the grind and routine of everyday life. Or what if the art simply acts as a beacon, a meeting point and a place to hang out and for life to unfold? What if works or art could offer the public domain more usable space, space that can be utilised all year round such as in the winter when it’s cold and dark outside. All these examples of physical interactions place human activity at their core and whether it be through visual or haptic experience, a sense of shelter or exposure, they all offer something tangible back to the community in the form of ownership of the collective environment.

Moments not Monuments

By breaking down the boundaries between, colour, race, gender, and age art has the power to cut through these social roles and act as a beacon of light, a symbol of connection, and ultimately a celebration of shared humanity.

So when thinking about public art, it’s important for us to explore it through the lens of ‘moments’ not ‘monuments’. giving the community something to own and nurture in order to ensure that the narrative of the work is intrinsically linked with the narrative of the people and that the work constantly evolves with the environment around it.

To us, that equates to a true sense of ‘success’ and positive impact.