The evolution of great cities around the world has been reflected in a rich fabric of fountains, monuments, sculptures and other works of art in squares and public spaces. It’s as old as the hills – think of the colossal statues of Egypt’s pharaohs or Michelangelo’s David, which was originally conceived as public art (it became a public symbol of the independence of the Florentine Republic). And it certainly hasn’t lost its importance in our time – Chicago’s famous Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor is just one example of how a public artwork can become an intrinsic part of the cityscape.
Public art embellishes urban environments, opens up space for us to consider our collective culture and history and brings beauty into everyday life that is free and accessible to all. Our city’s centre is undergoing momentous changes with the introduction of the NSW Government’s light rail. A crucial part of the plan is to enhance the improved infrastructure with three significant artworks, working with Curatorial Advisor for the City Centre, Barbara Flynn, as part of the City’s public art program, City Art. Like rooms, the new spaces created by the soon-to-be-pedestrianised George Street will be made more comfortable and pleasurable to be in.
One of these major artworks – the delicate, wistful The Distance of Your Heart by internationally recognised artist Tracey Emin – will affix subtle bronze birds along Bridge and Grosvenor Streets and through Macquarie Place and Lang Parks in the city. The expectation for her work to be ‘shocking’, a remnant of her 1990s oeuvre, might mean that the inspiration she has always drawn from the natural world is a surprise to some. Tracey says: “I really love nature. I look for it everywhere and it’s really magical when we see animals in cities; foxes, squirrels, birds. It reminds us that we are human. I want (to make) something that makes people feel good when they walk down the street.”
Work on The Distance of Your Heart is well and truly underway – London-based Emin has been sculpting prototypes over the past few months and these will soon be crossing the Pacific to reach our shores. In the meantime, you can find out from Tracey how her artwork will entice us to slow down and look at our city in a different way: