Amongst the market stalls, food stands, performance events and live music at this year’s Bermondsey Street Festival, a monumental public sculpture will be unveiled within the new Tyers Estate rain garden by artist, printmaker and Royal Academician Norman Ackroyd.
At four metres tall, weighing two tonnes and consisting of over 100 sculpture pieces uniquely crafted by members of the public, this is The Shared; creation of local sculptor and artisan, Austin Emery.
During the autumn of 2012, Emery invited those living, working and passing through the urban village of Bermondsey to take part in open sculpting workshops, using professional carving tools to create their own artwork from their chosen piece of stone.
Over the past two years Emery has spent over 800 hours piecing together the works, adding his own sculptural riffs yet leaving the public’s art, its imperfections and mistakes, untouched. The artist states that, to him, “the beauty is in the rawness of the differences between people” and accordingly, The Shared is comparable to a group of people, neighbourhood or city: an energetic mishmash of flaws, clashes and harmonies that must tolerate one another to form a single entity.
“How can you judge a crowd?”
Emery’s piece asks this question, requiring not a single response but instead repeated reconsideration.
The crowded city was the starting point for this piece, and the energy, dynamism and creativity catalysed by people living and working, playing and struggling, loving and hating together. Emery has said that “sweetness from top to bottom doesn’t do it for me,” finding beauty in the city’s “grit, its grime, its layers,” and recognising the tendency for people to find fascination and to gather in London’s more multicultural, diverse and evolving areas.
This is particularly potent in Bermondsey, a multi-layered inner-city village which is now becoming increasingly unrecognisable: once famed for its docks, tanneries and The Blue marketplace, it now plays host to Mayfair galleries and the Shard (something of a namesake for The Shared). This has all but left behind the local community, a gap which The Shared aims to bridge by bringing the public into the artwork, and the artwork onto their own streets.
Emery’s contemporary art practice is influenced and informed by his previous life as a stonemason, displaying a rare and significant level of craftsmanship and an appreciation for permanent and enduring forms. Constructed from Portland and Bath stones, and pieces salvaged from historic buildings such as Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and London Bridge Station, The Shared is not only an amalgamation of the ideas and talent of its recent participants, but also has a cumulative history due to the many generations of artisans who have reworked these stones over hundreds of years. The piece therefore moves away from the current, common focus upon the fleeting ephemera of city life, and instead preserves the vibrancy and personality of one of London’s oldest communities in a single central monument.
The Shared will stand at the Camarthen Place entrance to Tyers Estate, Bermondsey Street, within a rain garden built in collaboration with Leathermarket JMB and Team London Bridge as part of their Estates Greening project. This project has been possible through the funding and in-kind support of Southwark Council, Paye Stonework, Community Development Foundation, and Bermondsey Square Community Fund.
Throughout the day on 20th September 2014, the public are invited to take part in planting the garden, before Austin Emery and Royal Academician, Norman Ackroyd initiate an event surrounding the sculpture at 5pm, with the unveiling itself taking place at 6pm.
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