Public art has the ability to express thoughts and feelings that can be universally recognised, to transcend barriers of language so that all audiences can resonate with or experience the artwork.
Public art can express community values and culture, or stand against them, reflecting common opinions and questioning public assumptions.
Art as Political Commentary
In 2015, Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson teamed up with geologist Minick Rosing to import 12 icebergs from Greenland to Paris during the Paris Climate Conference, where over the course of the conference onlookers would watch the icebergs melt.
This political commentary spoke to the urgency of climate action and sparked feelings of fear amongst onlookers, encouraging them and the conference attendees to make drastic changes to climate policies.
Art as Celebration
Art activations in the public realm often intersect with times of celebration – in 2017, Art Pharmacy was engaged by Ipoh to create a bespoke sculptural installation to celebrate the year of the rooster.
The activation collided with Lunar New Year, and brought an energy of excitement and creativity to Sydney’s iconic QVB building – the rooster sculpture faced the direction of the sun rise in the east, alluding to the rooster as a sign of dawn and awakening.
Art as Mourning
The iconic public sculpture in Sydney’s Hyde Park, ‘YININMADYEMI – Thou Didst Let Fall’ by Tony Albert stands 7 metres high and is composed of four standing bullets and three fallen shells. The artwork speaks to the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women when they returned to Australia after World War II.
This work is a lamentation of histories, and stands as a powerful and evocative reminder of Australia’s dark past. The grand scale of the work and its location of high visibility characterise this artwork as a memorial space, urging onlookers to consider what took place on the land on which they stand.
Art as Hope
In Kingston, a city just south of Melbourne, a sculpturally abstract rainbow arches proudly over a parkland footpath. This is ‘Raindrops and Sunbeams’ by local artist Deb McNaughton, and features seven arched posts in succession of rainbow colours. The title combines a symbol of sadness, in reference to the global pandemic of Covid-19, alongside the light and hope at the end of the tunnel.
Rainbows are the result of the collision of these two elements – McNaughton through her work represents the strength, positivity and spirit of her community to inspire onlookers that there is hope and wonder ahead.
Public art can represent emotions felt by fewer people, such as memorials or murals that reference specific events or experiences. On the other hand, it can also unite entire communities through shared emotions and values – art can inspire, remind, incite and rejoice. Public art has the power to connect individuals through evoked emotional responses, fostering a sense of belonging and connection between artwork and audience.