The ‘new heritage’ of post-war public art

‘South of the River’ (Bernard Schottlander, London, 1975-76)

Over this last week there’s been a lot of positive press and media coverage around Historic England’s (HE’s) announcement of its move to give listed Grade II or II* status to 41 examples of British post-1945 public art. This new listing represents an important development by HE to recognise the ‘new heritage’ value of public artworks and is an action that can be read as an indicator of the current vulnerability and ‘at risk’ status of much civic public art in towns and cities across the UK. As Rachel Cooke wrote in her article in yesterday’s Observer (an unusually affectionate take on public art) [link], in our current age of austerity ‘public art is going through a difficult and sad time’ – not much new work is being commissioned and much of what already exists is neglected or forgotten. Indeed Cooke notes and as HE itself attests, some of the UK’s post-war public art has already been destroyed, stolen or disappeared.

In recognition of this vulnerability, over the next three years post-1945 public art will be one of HE’s new priority areas for additions and revisions to the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). This is part of HE’s project ‘Public Art (Sculpture) 1945-85: Designation, Exhibition and Guidance’, a programme of activity and research that includes a forthcoming exhibition telling the story of post-war public art commissioning at Somerset House in London and the production of new guidelines for the listing and designation of public art produced between 1945-85. As well as its announcement of the 41 list, as a first step HE have just launched a new summary document written by art historian Lynn Pearson on the key trends in UK post-war public, focusing primarily on sculpture and architectural murals.

The 41 public artworks selected for Historic England’s new Grade II listing are pretty eclectic. As might be expected there are works by ‘big name’ British sculptors – Moore, Hepworth and Frink feature quite strongly (Gormley’s work is there as well) – but also many works by much lesser-known artists. In terms of artform and material these artworks range from abstract steel and concrete sculptures to bronzes, figurative statues, memorials and architectural reliefs. Some artworks are in parks, while others are sited on buildings and within the streetscape. Commissioners include public sector bodies and private corporations as well as a number of universities.

Historic England doesn’t go into much detail on how these particular works have been selected for ‘listed status’. For me, it would be interesting to know whether these are simply the artworks deemed to be at the most immediate ‘risk’ or whether there is also some process of comparative significance assessment going on here as well? Who petitioned for the listing of these particular artworks? Were these put forward by HE itself or by another heritage or cultural body, or by the artist (or their estate or gallery) perhaps? Or by the artwork’s commissioner or current corporate or institutional owner? To what extent have members of the public art audience been involved as instigators of this listing process? It’s not clear either how many other public artworks might be listed in future. It’s certainly noticeable from the current list of 41 and the map HE has put together that no artworks are listed from the North East for example or from the South West. More than half of the public artworks enjoying HE’s new listed status are located in London. Maybe public artworks in other more far flung parts of England are less at risk, or possibly not sufficiently valued to initiate such a listing (or perhaps HE’s project hasn’t got to these corners of the country as yet?).

Thinking in terms of my own PhD research and recent study visits the artists and public artworks in the list that particularly caught my eye were those by Bernard Schottlander, an artist who I’ve been introduced to and very much enjoyed on my own public art explorations in Milton Keynes and Manchester. (Schottlander has three artworks in the current listing – in Milton Keynes, London and Warwick). The second was Geoffrey Clarke who’s now listed ‘The Spirit of Electricity’ (1961) was completed the year before his sculpture ‘Spiral Nebula’ was installed at Newcastle University.

Out There: Our Post-War Public Art runs at Somerset House, London, from 3 February to 10 April 2016. I’ll be reporting back on the exhibition and on a linked panel discussion organised by the Royal Academy (‘What’s the Future of Public Art’ The Geological Society, London, 15 February) on this blog next month.






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Cardiff Public Art Collection

For my third UK public art collection visit I made my way to Cardiff. Cardiff Council speaks of having a collection of 200+ permanent public artworks. In contrast to Folkestone’s seven years of collecting the artworks in Cardiff range back over 150 years.

My first Cardiff public art encounter, seen as I crossed the road from my hotel en route into the city centre, were two giant grey fists rising out of the pavement. Consulting the information I have brought with me I find that this is an artwork called ‘All Hands’ (by Brian Fell). Later I find out from the artist’s website that the sculpture is sited above a enclosed canal that was once was a coal supply route down to the docks. The artwork being intended as a commemoration to Cardiff’s dockworkers. But what I notice on the street is the way a small crowd of people has gathered on the seating set around the sculpture, not looking at it but facing away from it. As I walk round to the other side I realise that the sculpture is really close to a popular bus stop. I wonder if any of these waiting passengers are thinking about dock workers or are aware of the canal beneath them?

Sculpture and bus stop. 'All Hands' (Brian Fell, 2001)

Sculpture and bus stop. ‘All Hands’ (Brian Fell, 2001)

The next artwork I come upon is sited in the pedestrianized area around the St David’s Shopping Centre and immediately outside the central city library. It is one of the newer artworks in the city, installed in 2009 as part of the St David’s Public Art Programme. It is certainly a big work (25m high) but it also has an ambitious aim. According to a plaque inlaid into the pavement nearby, ‘Alliance’ represents ‘the meeting of past and present and a new symbol for the city’s future’. I learn later from my Cardiff conversations that this two-element sculpture is referred to locally as the ‘Hoop and Stick’. It’s a good description. The Wikipedia entry for ‘Alliance’ states that the hoop is filled with a liquid that is programmed to rise and fall to mark the changing tide on the Bristol Channel (an intriguing detail, if this is still working). I go into the library to get a different view of the artwork and the public space around it. Looking down I watch the movement of people passing under the ‘hoop’: from what I observe it seems an irresistible climbing challenge for some young children.

'Alliance' or the 'Hoop and Stick', outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

‘Alliance’ or the ‘Hoop and Stick’, outside Cardiff Library (Jean-Bernard Metals, 2009).

These two works are my first introductions to the Cardiff public art collection. Over the next day or so of my visit I explore the city and its artworks further, focusing especially on the three areas mapped out in the walking tour maps sent to me by my contact in Cardiff Council: the city centre, the historic ‘Civic Centre’ and the redeveloped waterfront at Cardiff Bay. Just looking at the maps you get an idea of how different these three areas are spatially. The city centre map appears to shows its collection of artworks as inserted into a tightly packed streetscape, spread out in a string along the high street or marking significant street corners. The Civic Centre map meanwhile indicates a much more planned arrangement. Here the artworks are part of the mid 19th-early 20th century architectural design of the grand civic quarter, embellishments of the buildings themselves or set out as formal statues and memorials in the surrounding green space. The Bay map plots its own artwork collection against the blue and open backdrop of the waterfront and around Cardiff’s contemporary architectural symbols, the Millennium Centre and the Senedd (Welsh Assembly).

The following offers a sample of some of the artworks, spatial-visual confrontations and public art audiencing activities that I encountered and observed during my visits to these three very different areas of the city. (Artwork credits courtesy Cardiff Council’s Cardiff Public Art Register)

City Centre

Civic Centre

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff’s regeneration focused approach to public art commissioning, especially as centred on the Cardiff Bay development in the 1990s, has been the subject of much academic and social debate. For background history and critiques of Cardiff’s public art approach see for example:

Gonçalves, A. & Thomas, H., 2012. CASE STUDY: Waterfront tourism and public art in Cardiff Bay and Lisbon’s Park of Nations. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, (August 2015), pp.1–26.

Hall, T. & Robertson, I., 2001. Public Art and Urban Regeneration : Advocacy , claims and critical debates. Landscape Research, 26(1), pp.5–26.





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Folkestone Artworks Collection

Folkestone Artworks MapFolkestone, down on the Kent coast, was the second public art collection on my schedule of summer research visits. This was my second trip to Folkestone – having been down last November to catch the end of the Folkestone Triennial. As a legacy of the Triennial (now running to three editions), Folkestone now advertises itself as a ‘gallery without walls’: home to a collection of contemporary artworks originally commissioned for the Triennial but now retained as permanent public art installations. This collection now runs to 27 works scattered (or inserted) across the town and along its seafront. Like the Triennial itself the collection is managed by the Creative Foundation, the local charitable organization that is the driving force behind the town’s programme of creativity led regeneration.

During my research visit, and in what has become part of the methodology for this element of my fieldwork, I took myself on a mapped out public art walk around the town. My guide for this was the Folkestone Artworks’ printed pocket map produced by the Creative Foundation. In my experience local, on the ground, information on public art is often hard to find but in Folkestone I found the map was widely available – I was able to pick up a copy from a stack in the reception of my hotel.

Folkestone Artworks Map 2

The Folkestone Artworks pocket map.

As this was a follow up visit after coming down to the Triennial last year I was intrigued to see which artworks had been kept for the permanent collection.  I was particularly pleased that one of the major works I didn’t have time to go and see in November is still here – ‘Beach Hut in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor’ – very grand alongside the other beach huts along this stretch of the lower promenade. As does Richard Wilson’s set of quirky crazy golf huts a little further along the beach – these ‘collected’ from the 2008 Triennial.

‘Beach Hut in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor’, Pablo Bronstein, 2014.

‘Beach Hut in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor’, Pablo Bronstein, 2014.

’18 Holes’, Richard Wilson, 2008.

’18 Holes’, Richard Wilson, 2008.

2014 additions to the permanent collection that I caught up with again on this visit also included: Yoko Ono’s ‘Earth Peace’, still flashing out its silent Morse Code message across the Channel (Artwork No. 7 on the map); Sarah Staton’s quayside pavilion ‘Steve’ (Artwork No 11, a work that provided me with much needed shelter from the pouring rain on my previous visit); and Strange Cargo’s ‘The Luckiest Place on Earth’. A set of four bright luck-givers tucked up under a railway bridge this was the first and last work in the Folkestone Artworks collection encountered on my visit (Artwork No 2 on the map). Also interesting to see that two very different public art projects are also labeled as part of the collection: ‘Payers Park’, the playful public infrastructure designed by muf Architecture; and the participatory-conceptual (?) work, ‘Folkestone Digs’, created by German artist Michael Sailstorfer. This generated the Folkestone gold rush that captured much media attention at last year’s Triennial. The site of this work is now marked on the map of the collection and by an on-site plaque, suggesting that there may still be gold to be found….

'Folkestone Digs', Michael Sailstorfer, 2014.

‘Folkestone Digs’, Michael Sailstorfer, 2014.

Overall there’s clearly a strong visual branding dimension to the collection. Unlike the public art collection I visited in Milton Keynes (where, as in Newcastle-Gateshead, the history of contemporary public art commissioning goes back some fifty and more years) Folkestone Artworks is a ‘young’ collection. The earliest works sited here only go back seven years, to 2008, the year of the first Triennial. As a result, the interpretive material (both print and online) and the onsite labeling of the art collection is all very consistent, quite unlike the jumble of historic formats of public art signage and interpretation that I’ve encountered elsewhere.

'The Folkestone Mermaid', Cornelia Parker, 2011.

‘The Folkestone Mermaid’, Cornelia Parker, 2011.

Alongside the Folkestone Artworks map the Creative Foundation has also produced audio guides to ten of the artworks in the collection. (Although I wanted to listen to a selection of these as I toured the artworks the memory capacity of my mobile phone and the limitations of my data allowance let me down here – a good lesson to remember re lived user experience of mobile digital interpretation.) The Foundation also runs an active and varied programme of engagement activities around the public art collection. Designed to take full advantage of the Folkestone landscape these events have included guided public artwork cycle and kayaking tours and even cultural dog walks. For the 2015 launch of the new edition of the Folkestone Artworks collection the Foundation also invited artists and thinkers to submit proposals for a programme of ‘Takeover Tours’ that could offer new perspectives on the artworks or new approaches to the concept of what a public art tour might be. For me these engagement events, the interpretative materials and on-site labelling and mapping are essential elements within the visual architectural envelope of – and the virtual entrances to – this ‘gallery without walls’.

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Milton Keynes public art collection

Over July and August I’m carrying out a series of research visits to three UK public art ‘collections’ as part of my PhD fieldwork. The first of these visits took me down to Milton Keynes. This is a place I’d certainly read quite a lot about in terms of its cultural geography [1, 2, 3] but never actually visited before. Milton Keynes is famous as the UK’s largest and, for some, most successful ‘new town’. It was built in the late 1960s to a radical modernist design that has been described as something of a meeting between the futurism of American architect Buckminster Fuller and the romanticism of the English ‘Garden City’. For some its original design (led by architect and town planner Derek Walker) is still seen as visionary, one of the great unsung projects of British post-war design. For others the town is a characterless, ‘brutalist wasteland’ [4], and a ‘Mecca for roundabouts’[5].

Unusually in the UK, Milton Keynes is also a town that actively promotes itself as having a ‘public art collection’: the reason for my research visit. This is a collection that encompasses some 220 permanent artworks located across the city centre and its wider area. I was only able to visit a small proportion of these during my visit, concentrating on the works located in the centre of Milton Keynes that feature in the city’s official ‘City Centre Artwalk’ booklet.


Milton Keynes Artwalk Map

Starting from the ‘Theatre District’ this route led me in a looping circuit around the central grid of Milton Keynes. This encompasses the town’s main commercial, retail and civic hub situated between the parallel tree-lined ‘Boulevards’ – the romantically (paganly?) named ‘Avebury’, ‘Midsummer’ and ‘Silbury’ – and their intersecting ‘Gates’. For a visitor, and public art researcher, like me one of the most striking features of this route is the way in which the public art walk threads between outdoor street space and the interior ‘malls’ of its main shopping centre ‘The Centre: MK’ and the adjoining (now listed) ‘Midsummer Place’. Two of Milton Keynes most locally popular artworks are sited within these malls: ‘Vox Pop (The Family)’ and a small herd of Liz Leyh’s original ‘Concrete Cows’ (sometimes cynically described as a symbol of MK’s all-pervasive ‘concreteness’).

'Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch's sculpture 'celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous'. It was 'originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city'.

‘Vox Pop (The Family), John Clinch, 1988. According to the Artwork Guide Clinch’s sculpture ‘celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous’. It was ‘originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city’.

Concrete Cows

‘Concrete Cows’. These are the ‘original’ concrete cows created by resident MK artist Liz Leyh and local schoolchildren in 1978. These are now corralled around the remains of the town’s celebrated oak tree in the middle of the Midsummer Place shopping mall.

Other mall-based public artworks include a humorous bronze ‘book’ bench by Bill Woodrow (outside Waterstones), ‘Circle of Light’ by US born kinetic artist Liliane Lijn (a work which I was looking for but somehow managed to miss in my walk round), and a series of fantastical bronzes by British sculptor Philomena Davis. These are located in ‘Silbury Arcade’, alongside branches of Carphone Warehouse, Claire’s, and Patisserie Valerie. Together these mall-sited works are striking examples of the way the viewing (visuality) of public artworks is often enmeshed within the urban retail experience: an ingredient of urban visuality and ‘aestheticisation’ that has been specifically highlighted in reference to Milton Keynes [6].

'High Flyer' one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis. According to the artist these works 'depict man's fantasy with flight and escapism'.

‘High Flyer’ one of three bronzes by Philomena Davis sited in Silbury Arcade. According to the artist these works ‘depict man’s fantasy with flight and escapism, in particular….that come to us in childhood and adolescence’. According to the on-site label the sculpture is modelled on one of the artist’s own children.

Exploring beyond the polished spaces of the shopping mall the outdoor streetscape of Milton Keynes felt like a very different material and visual environment for public art. Away from the brightness of the newer retail and leisure developments this is a less manicured and much more worn space. One that is open to the elements and that feels both concrete and green. The aesthetic here would seem to echo that of the sculpture ‘court’ or the ‘sculpture park’, albeit often on a pocket scale and in a rougher urban form. My public art route took me through a number of such spaces. A rather neglected public seating area/walkway between a branch of Wallis and one of the main Boulevards held an energetic (‘Vorticist’ inspired?) bronze by Michael Sandle: the radically titled, ‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom:****the Media’, while a trio of abstract and colourful sculptures by artist/designer Bernard Schottlander dominated the dried out summer lawn and patio of the park leading up to the City Church.

'A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media', Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist in a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous gong, with a man swinging an axe into a television.

‘A Mighty Blow for Freedom: ****the Media’, Michael Sandle, 1988. The Artwalk Guide tells me that the work is a twist on a well known film company logo, here replacing the famous image of the gong sounder with a man swinging an axe into a television.

Two sculptures from the '3B' and '2M' series. Simple forms which, according to the guide, are a play on the artist's initials: BMS.

Two sculptures from the ‘3B’ and ‘2M’ series. Simple forms which, according to the MK public art guide, are a play on the artist’s initials: BMS.

'The Object' Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket 'sculpture park' near Milton Keynes Gallery.

‘The Object’ Dhruva Mistry, 1995-7, tucked away in its own pocket ‘sculpture park’ near Milton Keynes Gallery.

Beyond this artwork and once through the strange under-croft of the motorway Milton Keynes centre opens up into green space proper – Campbell Park and its outlook to the wider rural landscape beyond. This too contains a number of sculptures, many of these dating from the 1990s but also some newer works commissioned as part of the Campbell Park Public Art Plan . The latest of these is the ‘MK Rose’ the final artwork I visited as part of my Milton Keynes public art fieldtrip.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes.

The ‘MK Rose’ by Gordon Young is designed as a new communal and commemorative space for Milton Keynes. It is a physical ‘calendar of days’ represented by 105 pillars each dedicated to a different day of celebration or commemoration, some national and some local to Milton Keynes. The work was commissioned by the Milton Keynes Cenotaph Trust and the Milton Keynes Parks Trust.


[1] Massey, D. & Rose, G., 2003. Personal Views: Public Art Research Project.

[2] AMH, 2006. Public Art in Milton Keynes Street Survey.

[3] Basdas, B., Degen, M. & Rose, G., 2009. Learning about how people experience built environments,

Learning about how people experience built environments – Dr Begum Basdas, Dr Monica Degen and Prof Gillian Rose

[4] Voices, P. et al., 2015. Concrete bungle : Exhibition of history of Milton Keynes fails to capture flawed urban experiment Milton Keynes deserves more than a PR version of its futuristic roots. , (July).

[5] Independent, S.T., 2015. Derek Walker : Architect and planner who designed Milton Keynes dies aged 85. , (July).

[6] Degen, M., DeSilvey, C. & Rose, G., 2008. Experiencing visualities in designed urban environments: Learning from Milton Keynes. Environment and Planning A, 40(8), pp.1901–1920.

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Auditing my ‘academic literacies’

This post has been prompted by Cally Guerin’s recent observations on doctoral writing and different academic ‘writing literacies’ on the Doctoral Writing SIG blog.

For Cally, academic writing literacy spans a whole range of genres from application forms and funding proposals, to composing survey and interview questions, writing conference presentations, journal articles and book chapters. She also counts blogging and social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn updates. Not to mention of course the all-important THESIS! In her post Cally states that:

Through these different writing experiences, doctoral writers learn how to express their ideas clearly, how to structure material so that all sorts of readers can engage with it, and consider the appropriate layout of the document to indicate how it fits together. They learn about the nuances of genre and audience—what’s appropriate, expected, and useful in a range of different writing situations.

With this year’s APR (Annual Progress Review) just a week ago and still being in a somewhat reflective mood, reading Cally’s post prompted me to log a few thoughts on my own progress with these different academic literacies.

Conference papers – Yes I’ve now done a few of those and I’m working on a new one for our annual ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference at the moment. At this stage of my research these are very much ‘work in progress’ papers. Coming from a visual arts practice background my instinct has always been to start with the visual presentation first and then work up my text (or script) to go with these. But in an effort towards a more focused academic delivery, I’ve now switched to working the other way round. At the conferences I’ve attended I’ve encountered a whole range of approaches to academic presentation but found the papers that are formally read without any visuals much the hardest to digest. I’m still very much exploring the academic culture here and need to continue experimenting to find a presentation mode that best suits me and my current ‘work in progress’ material.

Funding applications – This is an area of ‘academic literacy’ that I’ve now worked quite a lot on, and with some success! Not so much in terms of my own research (although I did manage to get AHRC funding for my PhD – thank you AHRC!) but rather in support of other academic’s bids. Through contacts in Fine Art here at Newcastle University I seem to be developing a bit of a specialism in creative practice-based research proposals. This is great for me, as it gives me an opportunity to work directly with artists again, something I used to do all the time in my previous professional work with Grit & Pearl and Commissions North/Arts Council England. These AHRC funding applications are a very specific and condensed form of research writing where you are following an externally imposed structure. Like other academic writing it’s both sometimes a solitary endeavour and also extremely collaborative, with much redrafting and discussion and responding to feedback along the way.

Survey and interview questions – Well surveys are not really my thing but I’ve certainly written interview questions for use in my own research project. From recent interviews I’ve conducted, the questions I’ve drafted for these seem to be effective in drawing out a good quality of responses. Although in the interviews themselves there are always additional questions raised that we don’t have time to explore. Working with one of my supervisors on a recent external research project I’ve also had an opportunity to explore and write for more unusual elicitation methods. In this case developing introductory texts and prompts for a online diary based qualitative investigation tool that invited user responses to an artist designed app project called ‘Second Moon’.

Social media – Hmmm…. As you may have noticed this blog has been pretty quiet over the last few months, as my writing attention has moved towards literature reviews and thesis chapter drafting. But I’ve been building up my Twitter activity (you can now follow my latest tweets on this blog) – a form of ‘academic literacy’ that’s easy to fit into tiny writing/thinking pockets in the day, especially when I’m out and about. (Although in honesty retweeting is reading rather than ‘writing’.) I’ve found that being in a more relaxed space away from my desk/laptop seems to put me in a better Twitter writing mode. But for longer form blogging (like this current post) I feel I need a more formal space/time that’s a bit closer to my chapter-drafting environment.

The THESIS – Of course, for me (and my PhD supervisors!) this is the biggest and most important academic writing literacy I need to master. In my revised project plan I’ve given myself a writing target of 10,000 words a month – the majority of this will go into the thesis, but not all of it will count to those magic (and still very far off) 80-100,000 words. For me this thesis writing time (as a part-time student I’m scheduling three x three hour slots for this per week) isn’t just about chapters, it’s all the draft texts, research notes, mind maps and outlines that go into their making. These are the inside working processes of the PhD writing project that you never really get to see in other people’s thesis writing, although these processes are certainly written about. I’ve found the standard academic writing handbooks by Dunleavy (2003) and Murray (2006) and blogs such as the excellent Patter and the Doctoral Writing SIG extremely helpful on all this, but I’d still really like to see inside the engine of someone’s thesis, to get a feel for the progress of the various drafts that’s gone into its making. Although I certainly value my supervisors’ feedback on my own writing it’s hard to judge one’s progress (and to feel positive about it) when you are always comparing your own writing with fully completed theses.

But, going back to Cally’s blog post and the positive learning that she suggests can be gained from these various writing experiences. The question perhaps for me at the moment is, are all these writing literacies just competing demands on valuable academic writing time, where one writing genre and project battles with another that has a more pressing deadline? Or can these different academic literacies be developed and managed in a complementary and mutually supportive manner?


Dunleavy, P., 2003. Authoring a PhD, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Murray, R., 2006. How to Write a Thesis 2nd ed., Maidenhead: Open University Press.


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Folkestone Triennial 2014 and ‘The Sculpture Question

Will Kwan, 'Apparatus #9', Folkestone Triennial 2014

Will Kwan, ‘Apparatus #9’, Folkestone Triennial 2014

A week ago I was down in Folkestone to catch the last weekend of the Folkestone Triennial 2014.

This was the third edition of the Folkestone Triennial. While it’s primarily promoted as a temporary public realm programme within a sculpture festival type framework this triennial is an interesting case study for my own research as it sites new temporary commissions alongside legacy works from previous Triennial years. Presenting this work under the banner of Folkestone Artworks it’s a rare UK example of public art engagement with the concept of ‘collection’. So far the Folkestone collection numbers sixteen permanent artworks maintained for the town from the two previous Triennial events (2008, 2011). Up to eight works are likely to be added to the collection from this year’s edition. I wonder which works will be chosen to stay in the town and on what basis this selection will be made? Practicalities, like material robustness and site ownership and probably contractual and planning issues too are likely to play a major part in this. How might this be balanced with the popularity of certain works with Triennial visitors and local audiences? (Gabriel Lester’s The Electrified Line and Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light in particular seemed to be attracting lots of attention while I was there.) It was too early really to explore these issues on this visit but these are questions that I’d like to return to again early next year, hopefully in conversation with the curators at Folkestone Artworks/The Creative Foundation.

Gabriel Lester, 'The Electrified Line', Folkestone Triennial 2014

Gabriel Lester, ‘The Electrified Line’, Folkestone Triennial 2014

Jyll Bradley, 'Green/Light (for M.R.), Folkestone Triennial 2014

Jyll Bradley, ‘Green/Light (for M.R.), Folkestone Triennial 2014










My second reason for going to Folkestone was to attend ‘The Sculpture Question’, a conference organised by the Creative Foundation and the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Although part of the Triennial programme ‘The Sculpture Question’ conference had a rather wider remit, seeking to explore the future of sculpture in its expanding ‘expanded field’. The conference set itself two key questions: The first was concerned with the teaching of sculpture within a ‘trans-disciplinary’ framework, where it is increasingly positioned in relation to installation, architecture and performance; The second with the broader issue of the agency of sculpture within the institutionalised and formal public realm. The conference set out to address these questions in three sessions, labelled broadly as: Terms; Frameworks; and Encounters. For me it was this third grouping which was the major attraction and interest. The conference programme promised a stimulating debate that linked with my own current investigations into public art audiencing and interpretation:

In the final part of the conference, we look at the experience of sculpture. How does the public confront works in the public realm? And what is the value of signposting ‘art’, or allowing for unexpected encounters? How much contextual information should one offer to the viewer and how might sculpture be seen as a starting point, or a reference, for a multi- layered response by a viewer – one that takes into account the frameworks discussed above, as well as personal experience?

The speakers for this session, of whom the keynote was the French curator and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, addressed these issues in sometimes oblique and sometimes direct ways in their presentations. Here are some of my edited notes that highlight, for me some of the more interesting and pertinent points made during the session and in the follow-on panel discussion:

  •  Sculpture is defined in terms of temporal and spatial ‘contingency’ and ‘social gathering’ as oppose to the distance and ‘flatness’ of the image.
  •  It’s important to recognize that sculptures sited in the public realm can be both an ‘attraction and a repellant’.
  •  Sculptures/artworks need to be active ‘generators’ i.e. producers of ‘something else’. It’s important to keep the story of the artwork ‘spinning’.
  •  Public space and public activity is now more ‘atomised’ and ‘polarised’ – this means we can no longer talk of ‘a public’. Instead we need to think in terms of a ‘fragmented multitude’.

 (Nicolas Bourriaud)

  •  What do we do when sculptures/artworks fail? i.e. when they fail to ‘gather’ in this sense, when they remain ‘flat’.
  •  Shifting from the visual to the linguistic and back again: ‘The Art World is in denial about how much text it uses.’

 (Gilda Williams)

  •  Public realm sculpture = something you ‘bump into’ either as a ‘surprise’ or as an object ‘that gets in the way’. May be a ‘distracting’ or ‘disturbing’ thing’, friendly or unfriendly, but also a ‘non-thing’ for some people.
  •  What do people do with things that they don’t want to see?
  •  Objects look back at us: they are ‘doing something to you’ or ‘demanding something of you’.

 (Anouchka Grose)

The Sculpture Question

The Sculpture Question: Anouchka Grose

NOTE: Although developed over a much shorter timescale Folkestone Artworks approach is similar to the model pioneered by Sculpture Projects Münster in Germany. The fifth edition of Sculpture Projects Münster is due to take place in 2017.

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‘The time it takes to peel an orange.’


Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of media interest in, and some quite strong critique, of the National Gallery’s decision to allow people to use their mobile phones to take photos of artworks in its galleries. Several writers lamented this decision, suggesting that photography hinders rather than encourages engagement with artworks.

Commenting on this debate, journalist Archie Bland, writing in The Independent, quoted some interesting and conflicting opinions about the time needed to look at and understand or ‘appreciate’ an artwork. Here are some of the amusingly alternative timescales suggested in his article:

  • As long as you like.
  • Longer than you think.
  • 100 hours.
  • The time it takes to peel an orange.
  • A lifetime.

Bland compares these with the average audience time spent with an artwork reported by some gallery visitor studies:

  • 15 seconds (for the ‘Mona Lisa’ at The Louvre).
  • 32.5 seconds (Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York).
  • 17 seconds (research at Rutgers University).

While we might traditionally consider the gallery as the place for more concentrated and contemplative looking and public space/public art as a place of the ‘glance’, this research makes me think that actually these art experiences may not be so dissimilar. Do the accumulated moments of glancing and passing by or even the half an hour spent with a public sculpture over a summer sandwich count towards an incrementally deeper or extended encounter?

What the shortest or longest time you’ve spent with a work of public art? What might this add up to over the course of a lifetime?

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