Meet the artists redefining Sydney’s cityscape

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Ever since we launched back in 2005 (was it really that long ago?), Lost At E Minor has been on a mission to showcase the work of our favourite artists who excite, inspire and leave us gasping in awe.

So we’re particularly excited to share new public art being made by international artist Tracey Emin  and talented locals Astra HowardMaria Fernanda Cardoso, and Locust Jones.

We caught up with these artists to find out more about the works planned for Sydney’s streets commissioned as part of the City of Sydney’s public art program.

Tracey Emin

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Acclaimed English artist Tracey Emin is known for her intimate and confessional work (see: ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ and ‘My Bed’).

Since her artistic beginnings in the 1980s, Emin has lectured around the world, been appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, and exhibited at Saatchi Gallery. She recently announced she has married a rock. You read that right.


Where does your fascination with beautiful birds in urban settings stem from?

“I really love nature – I look for it everywhere. It’s really magical when I see animals in the city (foxes, squirrels, and birds in particular). It reminds me that I am human.”

You’ve been known for your propensity to shock your audiences: what do you hope they take out of seeing these beautiful, handmade, bronze bird sculptures?

“I suppose that ‘shock’ is one element of my work which comes from what I was doing in the ’90s, but now most of that work is not shocking at all. I have always drawn birds, I have always been interested in ornithology, and I want something that makes people feel good when they walk down the street – something spiritual and poetic.

“I really love nature – I look for it everywhere. It’s really magical when I see animals in cities (foxes, squirrels, and birds in particular). It reminds me that I am human.”

How has this digital age changed the way you produce your art (and perhaps market it) as opposed to when you first became recognised back in the 1980s?

“I don’t think that it has changed in the slightest. If anything, I have become more draconian and more luddite. However, my studio uses social media to announce shows and new works etc.”

How did this project for the City of Sydney come about and what are your impressions of the artistic landscape in Sydney and Australia in general?

“I have been visiting Australia – and Sydney specifically – since 2003. I am very familiar with the galleries, the artists and the museums. I think it is lively and creative; but Australia is a long way away.”

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Astra Howard

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Astra Howard is a self-described action researcher/performer. Using data collected and visualised, she’s creating a work to get people talking about the issues affecting their neighbourhood.

Her works have been commissioned by city councils, state governments, and art organisations in New York, London, Hanoi, Delhi, Beijing, and Paris.


You’ve had a long-standing fascination with performance and art in public spaces. Where does this interest stem from?

“I began locating my assignments in public spaces towards the end of my graphic design degree in Brisbane. I found this type of ‘publication’ a very immediate and active way of thinking about, testing, producing and evaluating design principles and concepts.

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“During an honours program at UNSW Art & Design, I began spending longer durations of time in public spaces – silently recording what I was seeing and hearing around me.

“I was surprised at how these early observational interventions encouraged a high degree of interest and enthusiasm from members of the public. People would stop and read, discuss and debate, and also regularly challenge the observations being made”.

What are the positive impacts that you see public art having on the city and those that live in it?

“That is a complex question with many answers. It can challenge the way we see and understand a particular place or a community. It has the ability to reveal hidden stories or histories about a location, as well as the capacity to facilitate unexpected interactions between people (often strangers). It can create a platform for people to express themselves who otherwise might not have the opportunity to do so.

“It can play with our emotions through images and narratives of humour and/or sadness. It can be physically impactful, challenging the way we negotiate space. It can be the catalyst for discussion and debate about social, cultural, political and environmental issues. It can make us see a place in a deconstructed form, so that we can view it with fresh eyes. It can challenge our sense of scale within a location.”

It can create a platform for people to express themselves who otherwise might not have the opportunity to do so.

Tell us about the work you’re making now?

“During the community consultation about the upgrade of South Crown Street, locals suggested including a public artwork. Having worked in crisis homeless services in Surry Hills for many years, I was aware of how many great stories there were about this area that had not yet had the opportunity to be told.

Titled ‘Village Voices’, my project aims to capture and then communicate diverse stories from and about Surry Hills.

“Titled ‘Village Voices’, my project aims to capture and then communicate diverse stories from within Surry Hills. The flexible nature of the storytelling device is inspired by moveable signs located at movie theatres, churches and sports fields.”
Astra Howard's work.

How important was the environment and landscape in Sydney to shaping your own public artwork?

“Interestingly, it was the strict regulations surrounding projects in public spaces in Sydney during the late 1990s and early 2000s that inspired me to keep working in this city. I felt that my low-impact, research-driven projects were legitimate and useful activities to better understand and respond to the city.

“It has been encouraging to see an ever-increasing range of new public art initiatives sponsored by local governments in recent years. A truly public space is characterised as one that allows for ambitious, quiet, contentious, and unexpected experiences to be developed by and for people from all walks of life.”

A truly public space is characterised as one that allows for ambitious, quiet, contentious, and unexpected experiences to be developed by and for people from all walks of life.

Maria Fernanda Cardoso

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Born in Colombia, artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso studied in New York before finally moving to the place she now calls home: Sydney.

She draws inspiration from animals, nature, and life more broadly, and is known for her unconventional use of materials. One of her more famous exhibits involve starting a REAL flea circus with performers she trained herself. Her works have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the USA, Europe, Latin America, and Australia.


How has your diverse background helped shaped your own artwork?

“I have always tried to lead an interesting life, full of curiosity, exploration, and unexpected turns, as well as developing crazy projects grounded in academic and experimental research. I don’t believe in having an art career but in creating an ‘art life’. Life is my primary interest and that’s what makes my work universal.”

Your famous ‘Cardoso Flea Circus’ was recently acquired by the Tate Gallery in London. What does that achievement mean for you as an artist?

“It was fabulous and unexpected! I have never exhibited in London so I never imagined that I would find a home for this project there. However, Bertolotto, the greatest XIX Flea Impresario, was performing to the court and nobility in London in 1830. So I guess he planted the seed for my very own flea circus.”

For the city of Sydney, I am proposing an observational project which will take place over 100 years. The community of Green Square will watch a number of Queensland bottle trees grow from seedlings to magnificent trees.

Tell us about your own public artwork for the City of Sydney?

“For the city of Sydney, I am proposing an observational project which will take place over 100 years. The community of Green Square will watch a number of Queensland bottle trees grow from seedlings to magnificent trees. Its title, ‘While I Live I Will Grow’, was the motto of Anthony Hordern and Sons – once the largest department store in Sydney, whose logo depicted a Port Jackson fig.

(The historic Anthony Hordern building, which was located on Goulburn Street in Sydney’s CBD, was controversially demolished in 1986, to make way for the World Square development.)

“I was taken by the motto and the image of the tree, and revived it to form an artwork that I hope will inspire humans to age well, and mature magnificently – just like the Queensland bottle trees.

“To hold the trees, I am sculpting  spirals and embryos from local sandstone. The trees and the stones will express the idea of growth and form. I got the idea of using stone from the trees latin name – the Brachychiton rupestris or ‘rock dwelling’ trees.”

You have a long history of installing public art around the world. Where does your fascination with public art stem from?

“Having undertaken academic training in the art of sculpture, I really love when my art is showcased outside of a gallery and becomes part of life. This happened to me when the ‘Cardoso Flea Circus’ went viral (before the internet era) and became part of popular culture. Public art is another way to reach a general audience and get out of the pristine white box – but I never dreamt of making it!

“For decades I was doing a lot of intimate and fragile work with insects, small reptiles, and starfish – showing them in museums and galleries. Making public art was unexpected for me; I never imagined doing it because my materials were mostly organic and would rot outside. Suddenly I had the idea of showing living bottle trees, in a similar way to how I presented live performing fleas, as well as robotically milling sandstone.

“I was recently making miniatures for the Museum of Copulatory Organs, presented at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Biennale 2012. However, changing scales from miniature to large was not as hard as I thought. I like working with the small, and with my hands.

“With public art I am yet to do both of these things – working on large and small scales simultaneously by making models of my vision and then having them built at an urban scale.”

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What are your perspectives on Sydney as a city to live in and where do you take your visual inspiration from?

“I love the quality of the light and the openness of the skies here. I love the sunsets. I love the Indigenous plants and life, and the honeycomb cliff formations. Life can be lush and tough at the same time here. I like that.

“My favourite part of Sydney is the Malabar Headland, where I get a lot of inspiration. It is great to live in a city where you can have a rich cultural life and still be so close to nature.”

Locust Jones

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Locust Jones is a New Zealand-born artist known for his unique drawing style and aesthetic. Holding a Masters of Visual Arts from the Sydney College of the Arts, Jones has held over 25 solo exhibitions in locations as varied as New York, Christchurch, and Bathurst.


It’s a long way from Christchurch to the Blue Mountains. What brought you there and how vibrant is the art scene and community in that part of the world?

“I arrived in the Blue mountains via Wollongong (where I started my art degree) and Sydney (which is where I went to live after Wollongong). I was brought up in the country on a farm and I kept sneaking up to the mountains as an antidote to city living.

“One day I packed up my studio in Millers Point, put all my stuff in my van, and drove to Leura, where I found a house. That was in 1996, so it’s been 20 years.

“I now live in Katoomba and the arts community is very vibrant here, with groups like Modern Art Projects staging regular pop-up shows in various dwellings of architectural significance. There is also a new cultural centre in Katoomba that has the occasional cutting-edge show.

“There is still a conservative art tradition (of bad gum tree and escarpment landscape painting) going on in the mountains, but I have found a small group of contemporary artists to exchange ideas and hang out with.”

What are your impressions of the positive impact public art can have on a city and the residents that live in it?

“Public art can make people think. It can make them look up from their phones or busy schedules, and see something that changes their perspective, or moves them.”

Tell us about your own public artwork for the City of Sydney?

“I am drawing/painting a ten-metre long piece that will hang in the Juanita Nielsen Community Centre in Woolloomooloo. I have held five workshops with various community groups (from Plunkett St primary school kids, through to senior citizens) at the Reg Murphy centre in Potts Point. The drawings and writings provided by these folks during the workshops will inform (to a certain degree) the final curtain!

“I have made three large prototypes, and the linen for the final painting has been ordered from Belgium. When it arrives it will be sewn into a large, ten-by-three-metre panel ready for me to start work on.”

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Is there a particular piece of public art from elsewhere in the world that you’ve particularly enjoyed?

“Yes there are many, but one in particular comes to mind. In Lebanon there is a 20-metre-high tower made up of disused military hardware left over from the Lebanon Civil War; jeeps, APCs etc. It is quite a piece.

“Also, Antony Gormley’s figures on top of buildings in Hong Kong, and Ronnie Van Hout’s statue of himself saluting the sky on the top of the old post office in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.”

What are the underlying, recurring themes to your drawing work?

“Politics, self-portraits, calligraphy, architecture, the global theatre of war, and personal stuff.”

“Politics, self-portraits, calligraphy, architecture…”


Public art is a source of inspiration for locals and visitors alike. With Sydney well on its way to becoming one of the most globalised and modern cities in the world, it’s only fitting that we have a flourishing art scene to match it. Be sure to get outside and check it all out. To find out more about the City Art initiative, head here.

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  • Angela said | September 7th 2016 @ 7:30pm

    Make art more inclusive for everyone. Let the public make public art.