Brilliant Ideas Episode #11:
Artist Awakens Space
Chosen by Fate
“Art is not about determination. Rather, it is born of inevitability.” Jaume Plensa backs this conviction, in addition to a childhood memory that continues to influence his work today. He remembers crawling around under the piano his father played, delighted by the vibrant notes that seemed to resonate around him. This memory has had a resounding effect on his life, and that nostalgic, resonant vibration is something visitors can experience in L’animadellamusica(2011).
The installation is a structure of musical notes that intertwines into the figure of a person. It was around the time he created this piece that Plensa began to nurture an interest in space. In the 11th Brilliant Ideas presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai, we journey Plensa’s world of public art and urban spaces.
Inspiring Spatial Experiences
Born in 1955 in Barcelona, Plensa is a renowned sculptor and public artist. Monumental public works, such as the sculpture of a young woman’s head or life-size humanoid figures, have become emblematic of the artist and found in cities as diverse as Rio de Janeiro, Calgary, New York and Tokyo. Although at first glance, the installations appear as mere iterations of traditional sculpture, the artist’s intention lies beyond the material representation. Plensa is a beloved figure in all of the cities his work is located, not least because his art is inspirational to locals. It is because the artist creates physical forms that give rise to new, non-physical spaces and opportunity. He says, “art in public spaces must convey something from out of the city.”
His large-scale installation in St. Helens, England, was a project that hoped to illuminate dreams of the future that would propel the present out of the city’s dark past. As recently as the early 1990s the metropolitan borough had been home to some of the UK’s biggest collieries, but as the region’s mining industry took a downturn, “The Big Art Project” was initiated to improve conditions. Plensa participated in the project, spending time interviewing residents while finalizing his work. The end result was Dream(2009), a sculpture that pays homage to the history of St. Helens while looking to the future. The sculpture depicts the head of a young woman, her eyes closed in meditation and apparent rumination of both past and future. The elongated white structure is coated in sparkling white Spanish dolomite—a brilliant contrast to the coal that was once mined there. The glowing brilliance of the finish recalls the bright hope that inspires miners in their work below the surface. The project is deeply meaningful to the region as it was based on the local community as a site-specific sculpture that drew from the historical fabric of St. Helens.
The Power of Public Art: Social Communication
Plensa brings new perspectives on space and circumstance in his unique public installations. He works with diverse materials, including iron, copper, glass, light, water and sound. The artist at times utilizes a peculiar method of combining characters from different languages to form a structure that resembles the human body. Chinese, Japanese, Latin, Hindi and Arabic are some of the scripts he has used. The consonance between the diverse languages represents the diverse identities and conflicts of each region. To behold his works is to be drawn in, to gaze into the characters and the diverse worlds that they represent. Although characters are intended for written record, they also represent phonetic sounds, conjuring murmurs of hushed conversations. Perhaps the topic of choice is Plensa’s hope for a cohesive community and all the potentials inherent in it.
Among Plensa’s work, Crown Fountain(2004) is perhaps the most pivotal. Located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the public artwork has long since become a familiar landmark. The fountain is composed of a reflecting pool that sits between a pair of 15-meter-tall towers that face each other. The towers use LED displays to show faces of Chicagoans that have been randomly selected. The artist recruited and videoed volunteers from the city to represent diverse ethnic, social, religious, political and economic backgrounds. Through this process, Plensa voiced that the city was a gathering of people, not of buildings. Each individual person living in the city exists in anonymity, yet maintains a uniqueness. It is only when a person passes away that the remaining void is realized. The citizens who anonymously encounter one another in the urban space now face one another conspicuously through the monumental installation and through it come to realize that they are all members of a shared community. The monument simultaneously causes viewers to become aware of not only community, but also individuality.
In addition to featuring the countenances of Chicago’s citizens, Crown Fountain also has a fountain and pool. Impressed by Spain’s historic fountains and water-spouting gargoyles as a child, Plensa created the illusion of spouting water from the faces on the towers. For the artist, water is an important metaphor for relationships between people. Not only is it a natural and familiar material, it also accounts for 60% of our body composition. It is no surprise that so many visitors unhesitatingly step into the pool. Though less than a centimeter deep, it is enough a space for the public to enjoy and gather within a sense of community. The uplifting and inviting setting serves as a bonus. Plensa went beyond the duties of creating a public sculpture. He recomposed the public space and successfully realized a place of social communication, harmony and exchange between the diverse citizens of Chicago.
Plensa explains that he has to “take into consideration the everyday use of the space, because a public space is not a museum and has completely different rules because you are interfering in the everyday lives of people.” He wholeheartedly welcomes the opportunity to work with those parameters. He loves people and conversations with those from different backgrounds. The Spanish artist’s work and creativity are truly a testament to the power of public art in changing people’s perceptions, and a refreshing reminder of the important role of art. ■ with ARTINPOST
Polyester resin, stainless steel, light, marble pebbles 243cm×variable measurements Collection Copperhill Mointain Lodge, Are, Sweden
<The Crown Fountain> 2004
Glass, stainless steel, LED screens, light, wood, black granite and water
Painted stainless steel 800 x 500 x 530 cm
<Plensa Slumberland XIV> 2014
Graphite on paper 143×113 cm Photo: Fotograpfia Gasull
<Lou, Olivia, Duna, Sanna II, Laura III> 2015
Alabaster Dimensions variable Installation view from Together San Giorgio Maggiore Photo: Jonty Wilde
Stainless steel 147×120×425cm Photo: Jonty Wilde
Stainless steel 525×531×425 cm Photo: Jonty Wilde
Concrete and Spanish Dolomite 20 metre high×17 m×17 m
<L'anima Della Musica> 2011
Painted stainless steel 377×235×245 cm
<Conversation a nice> 2007
Polyester resin, stainless steel, light 7 elements of 12 meter high
Painted stainless steel 12 meters high
Born in 1955, in Barcelona, Spain, Jaume Plensa is an artist dealing with public sculpture and installation. His public projects are installed in such various cities as Chicago, Liverpool, London, Dubai, Tokyo, and Vancouver. From textured portraits to monumental outdoor sculptures like Nomade (2007) and well-known public projects including the Crown Fountain (2004) in the Millennium Park in Chicago, Plensa has been working on a wide range of forms of art. A fountain titled Crown Fountain (2004), presenting LED screens that displays over 1,000 people’s faces, is his representative piece that made him one of the world’s foremost public artists.
Plensa has applied the concept of “inside and outside, front and back, and light and darkness” to stimulate emotion and intelligence. He often creates human body shaped sculpture by combining a variety of materials including steel, bronze, water, light, sound, and video with texts written in English, Chinese, Latin, and Arabic characters, and this can be said as Plensa’s signature style.