By Owen Craven
Public art has many roles. It can re-brand cities, communicate the culture of a populace and connect people to each other and to place.
Art and artists have an important role in breaking through the fast-paced society we live in to tell stories. The power of the image is incredibly strong and the visual language used by artists can be arresting and engaging.
Art can create new stories, but vitally, it can be used to tell histories of culture and place. Stories and history underpin our society and cities, and as curators and designers of the public, we take carriage of expressing those stories.
An artwork which expresses a shared story can unite those who view it: whether it be through conversation, the power of the spectacle, or intimacy. Reko Rennie’s artwork Remember Me brings people together as they reflect on the tragic history the artwork references.
Reko Rennie’s Remember Me tells the story of the Stolen Generations
Remember Me was created to pay tribute to Australia’s Stolen Generations. Nine vertical spears, a bronze bark vessel and granite seating are gathered in a ceremonial ring, creating a space where visitors can pause, reflect, mourn and remember.
Reko Rennie said of Remember Me: “My vision for the Stolen Generations Marker is an inclusive environment where people can sit and peacefully reflect on, mourn and acknowledge the deep trauma of the past, as well as connect with the ongoing strength and resilience of the Aboriginal community and support the process of healing.”
Art also has the ability to express a unique identity for a place or space. This can reference the wider geographical location, or as in the case of Emily Floyd’s Allegory of a Cave, reflect the intended purpose of a new development.
Emily Floyd’s Allegory of a Cave reflects intention and purpose of place
Allegory of a Cave consists of 104 square aluminium blocks of varied height, suspended from the exterior soffit of western Sydney’s new commercial development One Parramatta Square. It takes its name from Plato to reference the intention for the space as a centre for information, knowledge production and inquiry.
Artists have a responsibility to tell stories which educate and engage those who view public artworks. In Ngarunga Nangama, Calm Water Dreaming, Judy Watson’s clever use of materials from the very site of 200 George St, coupled with symbols and inscriptions, allows her to tell the history of the building’s location. The work honours the uniqueness of the place, revealing the Aboriginal and colonial relationship to Sydney’s Tank Stream. As this is a history largely unknown by residents and visitors to Sydney’s CBD, the work helps to create a sense of place, by informing and assisting those those view the work to understand the story of where they are standing.
Judy Watson’s Ngarunga Nangama, Calm Water Dreaming unveils a hidden history.
Public art offers opportunities to unite people and provides places to pause and reflect. Artworks are often a representation of history and a reflection of culture. Harnessing artists’ ability to tell stories and working with them in the public realm, offers a unique opportunity to curate and design our cities of the future.