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Art in the Public Realm

Installations in the Public Realm from Chelmsford to Hull

The City Speaks by Michael Pinsky. Words by Shane Rhodes. Read by Laura Elsworthy. Film by Michael Pinsky.

Challenging Perceptions of Cities

Art in the public realm often aims to challenge people’s perceptions of a place and to offer different ways to experience it.

Having worked in both the old city of Hull and the relatively newly crowned city of Chelmsford, I’ve experienced first hand how such art installations and Outdoor Arts can be deployed to contribute towards ‘place-making’.

For example, I was a key player in ensuring that the 300,000 sq ft retail and leisure development scheme in Bond Street and in the High Street in Chelmsford included suitable public space and facilities for outdoor arts. For many years we demonstrated the benefits of performance in the public realm in the area.

Another example was Look Up which was a series of new artworks in Hull that aimed to intrigue and inspire throughout the whole year of the UK City of Culture, and was created in partnership with organisations including GF Smith and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

The City Speaks

Curators Andrew Knight and Hazel Colquhoun asked artists to create public art commissions including lighting schemes and included The City Speaks – a scheme that gives a voice to the city’s past, present and future.

The City Speaks on Humber Street in Hull. Photo: Thomas Arran

Imaginative installations with words and stories relating to Hull were built into the fabric of the public realm and street furniture.

The City Speaks saw artist Michael Pinksy and Hull poet and writer Shane Rhodes working together, not only to weave words into the new-look city centre, but also to make sure the text was relevant to Hull, with a mixture of local, national, international and historic sources.

Michael Pinsky explores issues which shape and influence the use of our public realm to create innovative and challenging works in galleries and public spaces. He works with local people and resources without a specific agenda to allow the physical, social and political environment to define his work.

I’m Laughing at Clouds interactive light and sound sculpture at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford. Photo: Stephen Leonard

I’d first become aware of Michael Pinsky when I moved to Chelmsford where he had created I’m Laughing At Clouds, an ensemble of nine tactile lighting columns with touching sensors embedded in the sculpture, allowing the passer-by to create a composition of light and sound.

When in Chelmsford, Pinsky had also set-up Pinsky Projections as a property development company whilst he was artist-in-residence in the urban planning department at the local council – where I was also working on cultural projects. His proposals at that time were intentionally radical whilst being pertinent to urban issues. They are intended to stimulate a response from the community especially as they were sited in prominent public places. The hope was that all stakeholders would become more ambitious and risk-taking in their approach to developing the West End of Chelmsford.

Pinsky Projections residency and commission with the local urban planning department. Photomontages by M Pinsky

Another major public installation I was involved in during the UK City of Culture was in front of Hull Minster. Swiss artist Felice Varini and the Chilean architecture practice Pezo von Ellrichshausen collaborated to create the large-scale project – entitled A Hall for Hull.

Sixteen giant galvanized steel columns being installed outside Hull Minster. Photo: Liam Rich

Visitors faced a range of different experiences as they enter each of the 6m (20ft) high columns, which are open to the sky. Perforations were added across their frosted-like steel skin to “create a delicate interplay of light and shadow across the interiors of each inhabited space” and create “a feeling of lightness” as visitors moved closer to the initially imposing static structures.

The 16 heavy structures took some time and effort to install

Varini created artworks across the columns that distort and redefine their otherwise rigid geometry, challenging perceptions of scale and perspective (see my photos taken on site below).

The giant galvanized steel columns were arranged in a grid formation, the idea being to create a new outdoor ‘room’ for the city. Photo: Liam Rich

The design team said that the space “is designed with the hope that residents and community groups within and beyond Hull will activate the space for multiple purposes beyond the imagination of the artists.

Varini’s geometric designs were added once the structures were all in place.
Photo: Liam Rich

“A Hall for Hull effortlessly fulfils our aim to push the boundaries of how we observe art, architecture and public spaces and to facilitate unique experiences for residents and newcomers to the city.”

Marie Bak Mortensen, RIBA Head of Exhibitions
Projectors set on the adjacent road were used to apply the white lines for Varini’s designs. Photo: Liam Rich

Other Look Up art installation projects in Hull included:

Floe by Heinrich and Palmer

Floe was a major projection, sound and light event created for Hull’s iconic aquarium, The Deep.  It was the final major commission in the UK City of Culture’s Look Up series of art works in the public realm.

Floe by artists Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer

Floe investigated the nature and inspiration behind The Deep, from its unique design and structure, to its position today as a major visitor attraction and international conservation and research charity. Using film, modelling, mapping and projection we explored the material, form and surface qualities of The Deep, conjuring with the geological and biological processes which inspired the building and the rich aquatic life and environments it houses.

Blade by Nayan Kulkarni

The B75 roto at the heart of this site specific public work was one of the first manufactured by Hull’s new Siemens factory. The blade itself is a pre-made industrial object and part of its beauty is in the contrast between the city center and the 25 ton monolith. It was a stunning reminder of Hull’s industrial past and future.

The Golden Hour by Nayan Kulkarni

The Golden Hour used the domes and lanterns of some of Hull’s most significant buildings and were beautifully complemented by light artworks embedded in the ground. The eye was drawn from the ground to the sky and perfectly synced with the aim of creating a city of sculptures.

“The Golden Hour seeks to create a calm and inspiring set of illuminations that will transform the significant buildings and sculptures. The effect will be that of a city which constantly changes within its lit effects. Colour and shadow will attract the eye from place to place, never too quickly, more at the speed of walking or resting at a new bench or by a well-tended tree.”

Nayan Kulkarni

Other artists involved in the Look Up project included Bob and Roberta Smith, Tania Kovats, Claire Barber, Sarah Daniels and Claire Morgan.

Installation Timelapse of Elephant In The Room by Claire Morgan

The UK City of Culture’s Look Up programme of public art installations were intended to bring new life to public spaces across the city and transform Hull into a focal point for national and international tourists. I think it largely succeeded and it was a pleasure to be involved in some of the individual art installations.

A Hall for Hull in front of the freshly refurbished Hull Minster
A Hall for Hull – The sixteen steel columns seen from above