With the approval of the $11.3 million Cloud Arch last year and the giant milk crate for Belmore Park seemingly still on hold the cashed up City Of Sydney Council is not afraid to splash large chunks of their massive revenue stream on so called public art. The latest addition to the ”City Art Collection” is a series of over sixty handmade bronze bird sculptures, the work of celebrated English artist Tracy Emin.
Dubbed The Distance Of Your Heart each bird supposedly “reflects on the distance of Australia to other parts of the world and aims to inspire hope for many city visitors who feel lonely and homesick when separated from their loved ones.” Mmm – I would have thought the pigeons and ibis do a pretty good job of that anyway – and for absolutely no cost bar a clean up of their droppings.
With a total cost of around $912,000, each of the smallish individual birds comes in around $14,000, including the scrap cost of the bronze involved. And herein lies an immediate problem. If the past is any precedent the Council will need 24/7 surveillance on all of the birds to prevent them being stolen or even vandalised. That was the fate some years ago that befell one of the sculptured heads in the Plaza Iberoamericana, on Chalmers Street near Central Station – decapitated overnight and straight to the scrapyard.
Whilst many Sydneysiders and tourists have a liking and reverence for public art, there is a minority for whom it is meaningless and merely the object of their vandalism. Take the large historical photographs of old Sydney which the Council, in all good faith, recently adorned building hoardings along George Street. To most people they provided a fascinating glimpse of what the City was like around a hundred years ago yet a mindless minority chose to obliterate them with tags and other graffiti.
Perhaps Emin’s birds need to be electrified with a pulsing 240 volts, along with suitable warning signage, although that might require an endless number of languages to cater for any unsuspecting tourists. If the shock treatment fails then maybe snipers equipped with rubber bullets could be deployed to take out any bird bandits.
Whilst public art often polarises the community on an aesthetic level it also creates a fierce argument over the often high costs involved and whether the money would be better spent elsewhere – like on social welfare programs. For the hundreds still sleeping rough in Sydney the birds would be as welcoming as their cinematic counterparts in a well known Alfred Hitchcock movie. Winter is not far away and once again those almost invisible and totally neglected areas of Sydney like Tom Uren Square in Woolloomooloo will see elderly men bedding down on rock hard concrete.
It’s probably drawing a long bow but somewhat ironically Tracy Emin’s best known work is her controversial My Bed, an installation piece first exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1999. As uninviting as the unmade, trash surrounded crib is, it would no doubt be most welcome by those who currently sleep al fresco on the mean streets of Sydney. That’s not Tracy’s concern but it should be the focus of the City Of Sydney Council who for all their bluster have done little to get the rough sleepers off the streets, if only during the freezing months of winter.