The days are finally getting longer. As our memories of warm evenings begin to defrost with the changing weather, we thought it was a fitting time to reminisce on outdoor art and public installations. We’ve scoured recent cultural memory for a selection of our favourite public art installations (and institutions) that have had a lasting impact on the cultural zeitgeist in the UK - South England edition.
“Each year, we stage a free, ten-day festival, working with hundreds of artists to locate art at the centre of everyday life for all of the area’s communities.”
Deptford X Parade 2022
Deptford X Festival, Deptford X
Based in South East London, this annual outdoor arts festival has it all. Performances, music, a street parade, open studios, art installations, and workshops enliven the already bustling neighbourhood of Deptford. Funded by the Arts Council England and supported by Lewisham Council, Deptford X is London’s longest-running visual arts festival - having been founded in 1998.
Hundreds of artists and local institutions have worked with Deptford X throughout the years, far too many to name individually here. From established contemporary artists, to emerging artists, to art school students and creatives alike, Deptford X commissions several major artworks every year along with their ‘Supported’ category, allowing those from underrepresented communities to create new work.
Shawanda Corbett, Evocation of Buked, Deptford X Arts Festival 2018, London UK
Copyright Marcia Chandra© 2018
Ice Watch, Olafur Eliasson
This Icelandic-Danish artist may be responsible for some of your favourite outdoor and indoor public art installations of the last decade. He’s shown across the world in rainforests, bustling metropolises, deserts and in some of the most respected international art institutions.
Ice Watch is a 2018 art installation that took place on the banks just outside of the Tate Modern in London. With the belief that “art has great potential for changing the world", Eliasson sourced glacial ice blocks from the frigid waters of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland and parked them on the public walkway in Southbank - a collaboration with award-winning Greenlandic, Minik Rosing.
Installation view set against the backdrop of London city
Copyright Justin Sutcliffe © 2018
This piece invites you to slow down. It transports you to Greenland; to a place where you are at the forefront of the indiscernable. Where a water droplet from a 5-tonne iceberg allows for the witnessing of a seemingly ineffable feeling that is much bigger than yourself… Eliasson’s work undoubtedly has that ineffable spark. His practice straddles the interface of architecture, ecology, education, sustainability, and perception. Though dealing with the grave matter of climate change, there is a magic inherent to the work. Eliasson’s enduring influence is in his ability to perceive the imperceptible. The work often lives on inside the viewer’s memory, leaving them captured in a feeling…
Now here’s an artist who is equal parts controversial, philanthropic, disruptive, and radical who has seldom shied from tackling socially-motivated themes or conflict. With a plethora of public disruptions (ahem, installations) to choose from, the one we keep going back to is his 2015, Dismaland. Described by the artist as “a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism”, Banky’s dystopian theme park drew in over 150,000 visitors over a 5 week period to the quaint seaside town of Weston-super-Mare including the likes of Brad Pitt, Jack Black, and Mark Ronson. Featuring works from 58 hand-picked artists including Damien Hirst, David Shrigley, The Connor Brothers, and Jenny Holzer, amongst many others. The project brought a whopping £20 million in revenue to the sleepy English resort town, a much needed boost to local businesses at a time when tourism wanes thin in the colder months - more than three times than initially projected.
Banksy's twisted dystopian version of Disney Land
Banksy’s oeuvre only grows with each coming provocation. Following this hotly-anticipated, inherently-paradoxical, anti-capitalist “theme park for the disenfranchised, with franchises available”, there was a noticeable spike in the artist’s auction results compared to the year previous. From new works in Ukraine just last year to a mural in Margate on Valentine’s Day, we can’t help but wonder what else the elusive street artist has in store for the year…
Queues for Dismaland reach for half a mile as thousands try to get in...
I Want My Time With You, Tracey Emin
Over the years Tracey Emin’s name has become synonymous with provocative and intimately explicit art. In the largest text piece she has made to date, Emin reminds travellers to stop and take a moment to enjoy, to feel love.
The piece is a love letter, giant pink letters, a 20-metre sentence hanging directly below the clock in St Pancras station - one of the UK’s busiest railway stations. In the midst of Brexit madness in April 2018, the massive sign acts as a yearning homage to Europe. As trains from Paris and Brussels pull into the 19th century station, over 50 million visitors a year will be greeted by the warm pink hue that reads, “I Want My Time With You”.
Tim Marlow, artistic director of the Royal Academy, called Emin one of the most important and influential artists in the world.
“Her work is intense and compelling and blurs the boundaries between the personal and the public and between art and life… I can think of no-one better to present to the international audiences of St Pancras in this, the Royal Academy’s 250th anniversary year.”
Installation view, for the 150th anniversary of St Pancras International
Copyright Tim P. Whitby 2018, Getty Images
Bold Tendencies is an arts organisation started in 2007 in Peckham, London. It supports artists to develop their ideas “and to realise site-specific projects and present live performances from its rooftop home, Peckham’s Multi-Storey Car Park”. With a rotating list of commissioned artworks that sit alongside more permanent structures, artists, architects, and musicians have worked with director Hannah Barry and her team for years. From philharmonic orchestras, to established artists like Richard Wentworth, Martin Creed, and Nan Goldin, Bold Tendencies has struck gold with its exciting programming. As it continues to champion new and compelling public art, this institution has long-standing appeal to audiences with an appetite for innovation and multi-sensory experiences.
Jack Evan's 'Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back', 2020
Photograph by Damian Griffiths
Samson Tsoy & The Philarmonia Orchestra, 2022
Photograph by Luca Migliore
A House For Essex, Grayson Perry
In Wrabness, on the river Stour, sits a peculiar lodging. Created by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture, A House For Essex was a project years in the making, commissioned by Alain De Botton for his Living Architecture company - a UK–based nonprofit founded by the philosopher in 2006.
The medieval stave church-like structure features an extensive number of specially commissioned artworks by the Turner Prize winning artist, from bespoke ornate tiles, tapestries, vases, sculptures, to decorative timber-work and more. The building is split into four segments that increase in scale and lead its guests down onto a gently slopped plot towards the Stour estuary. Each facet of the chapel celebrates the history and psyche of Essex (Perry's home county) and doubles as a shrine to the fictional character of Julie Cope, conceived by Perry as an "Essex Everywoman". Distinct iconography depicts Julie as a saint – from mouldings on the green tiling and an aluminium weathervane on the exterior of the house, to tapestries and ceramic statues inside that inscribe the life and death of Julie Cope. A fictional woman who was twice married, ultimately happily to a fictional man named Rob that promised that if she died before him, he would build her a Taj Mahal, a great 'monument to love', on the banks of Stour.
Completed in 2014, this spectacular one-of-a-kind art installation and holiday home toys the line between public and private art, between free access and domain.
The house is ‘a monument to thwarted female intelligence’, says Perry
Photograph by Grayson Perry/FAT Architecture
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