Why then is public art still a design postscript here in Perth?
‘Plop’ art, as some call it, rarely fuses with its milieu. A statue here, an abstract sculpture there or, in the case of Perth, everywhere! Whilst nice to look at once or twice, these addenda quickly dissolve into the cityscape and become invisible.
Returning to Perth after a decade overseas, I’ll admit I am bemused by our approach to public art and its role in the public realm. European cities seem to deal with the topic effortlessly, building art into the urban structure. Public art is for the people, so why not integrate it within the functionality of space and identity of place? Why not bring artists along in the design process? Public art with place making benefits!
Celebrating poetics in the everyday
Celebrating poetics in the everyday has made some of the world’s great places. Park Guell in Barcelona immediately springs to mind. Antoni Gaudi’s city park speaks to the Catalonian people and visitors alike. Meshing art with urban functionality, Park Guell has shaped the city’s identity and become one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions. It remains strongly connected to the people of Barcelona, used foremost as city park for local inhabitants to escape the hustle and bustle of city living.
Involving artists during the conceptual stage of design can lead to the creation of extraordinary places. The Sea Organ, located on the shores of Zadar, Croatia, is a simple but elegant installation by Nikola Basic. Basic’s vision was for white marble steps to invite people to the water’s edge, while underneath tuned pipes ‘play’ music by the movement of the sea: the chords depend on the size and velocity of the waves. This urban installation has reconnected the people of Zadar with the sea, while creating a beautiful and popular place to gather in the city.
A fun and quirky example of art within the urban form is the “Broadway Dance Steps”, an installation by John Mackie in Seattle. The project was commissioned as part of a civil maintenance program. A new pavement was going in anyway, so why not make it more interesting? Art was literally incorporated into the street by setting brass shoe prints into the pavement to make up a series of dance steps. “1, 2, 3, 1,2,3 — Quick, quick, slow. Quick, quick, slow” says a sign above the steps making up the Rumba.
Mackie explains this work as a representation of the choreography of the street. Noting movement of people in a city is like ‘dancing’. He likes the surprise of doing public art saying: “I get people on their way to work. I get people on their way shopping, when they don’t expect it.” This seems a good philosophy for a practice which aims to bring art to the people.