The big idea behind small pieces of public art
New projects appearing around Dublin show that, when it comes to art, size isn’t everything
In Japan, the brightly coloured ornate manhole covers ( manhoru ) are custom designed for individual towns and cities, by artists, designers and school children – small moments of unexpected colour and inspiration in an utterly unexpected setting (for more see the book Drainspotting , 2010, by Remo Camerota ). In Dublin, there are also developments making space for a return of the small.
Ruairí Ó Cuiv, public art manager with Dublin City Council, is looking at extending Rachel Joynt ’s wonderful People’s Island at D’Olier Street/Westmoreland Street. Installed in 1988, this is a perfect example of the small. Some pedestrians may miss the little brass claw, paw and footprints that scatter the traffic island, but those who do see them are enchanted.
Another small project in Dublin is Geraldine O’Reilly’s gently beautiful drawings of wild herbs, mint and rue on the utility boxes on Fade Street, which appeared in January this year. These were commissioned as part of the Grafton Street Quarter Improvement Project, and Ó Cuiv sees them as small gems, and an integral part of the overall treatment of the street.
A parallel but separate initiative is being developed by the Dublin City Architects office. Beta Projects (dubcitybeta.wordpress.com) was initially set up by Shane Waring as a 10% Innovation Time Project a year ago, and relaunched on its first anniversary on Wednesday. Run through open meetings, Facebook and Twitter, Beta Projects invites people to suggest small ideas of projects to change the space we live in.
The first visible results of this were 11 traffic-light boxes (those anonymous green boxes that lurk at street corners) repainted, with varying results, by artists and other members of the public.
Another idea in the (ahem) growth stage, has been developed from artist Anna Garforth ’s green graffiti. Garforth uses a mixture of yogurt and sugar to write texts in moss on walls in London. As the weather improves, keep an eye out on Little Mary Street to see things take shape.
The Beta Projects approach has been deliberately low key, an antithesis to grandiose thinking, and ideas or, as Waring puts it, “the problem you’re proposing to solve behind your idea”, are welcome through the website, Facebook and Twitter.
There is space for both big and small, the epic text and the poem, the utilitarian and the decorated – although these latter two no longer need to be mutually exclusive. “Those who measure everything by the past impede the cultural development of nations and of humanity itself,” wrote Loos. “Ornament is not merely produced by criminals, it commits a crime itself by damaging national economy and therefore its cultural development.” Thank goodness, one hundred years on, things are changing again.