HOW DOES PUBLIC ART BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
A space is influenced by its surrounding as much as it is by what it holds. In cities and urban areas, of culture and society, while the concept of public art is known to contribute to aesthetic value, sculptures and works of art are crucial in their ability to influence and inspire cities, to represent their cultural background and social standing while providing a space that reflects its society. The Port City Colombo’s Design Competition through their platform has encouraged and promotes the practice of public art in its purpose to allow the city’s people to be able to connect with the surrounding and envision the future while retaining cultural nuances. Architect Ruchi Jeyanathan alongside artist Anoma Wijewardena and designer Shilanthi Abeygunawardana as judges of the competition have chosen under a vital criterion the works art that are to be the future of the city’s cultural presentation.
Architect Ruchi Jeyanathan has taken her place on the Port City Colombo Design Competition’s Judge Panel gracefully as she directs and mentors the finalists into success. Her experience of over 25 years in the industry brings in much knowledge and comprehension of the landscape and environment and the significance of public art while emphasizing on the relationship between each component in facilitating the social and cultural aspects of cityscapes. In conversation with Ruchi, we explore her criterion and notions she implements in the selection process while discussing the importance and need for public art in new and burgeoning cities and the value they hold.
Q |What are your thoughts on Port City’s urbanscape and the vision of this design competition?
A |Two key elements of the Port City’s urbanscape are its public spaces - the beach strip and the central park. This competition is for sculpture and interactive wall on the beach, which is positioned to provide a continuously flowing promenade from the Galle Face greens. This beach is open to general public and will present a platform where people from all walks and all parts of the city can interact freely. Because of the breakwater beyond it, this will be a safe recreational beach, the first of its kind in Colombo. This space could potentially be the bridge which allows all people of Colombo to physically and emotionally engage with the PCC.
The sculpture and interactive wall are to be designed by students so that these works of art are a true expression of the hope and youthful energy of their creators.
Q |What were your thoughts on being asked to judge this design competition, especially as an architect yourself, and the impact and influence each work of art should bring?
A | As an architect I am particularly interested in how the sculpture will relate to the space and environment it is placed in and how this space will be transformed by the sculpture. I am looking forward to seeing the expression of a new spirit of Sri Lanka – one born of the vision and hope our youth have for the future of Sri Lanka and particularly the city of Colombo. These artworks should provide a point of interest and more reason for general public to visit this beach and connect it to the Galle Face greens.
WHAT IS PANELIST, RUCHI JEYANATHAN LOOKING FOR IN A WORK OF ART?
“I hope to see artworks that respond to the environment they are placed in. Artworks that provoke reactions and invite interaction with visitors to the beach. Artworks that enhance the experience of this space. I would like to see original and authentic expressions, rooted in a Sri Lankan spirit but employing new technologies, materials and idioms of expression. Something that is truly in spirit with the hope and dreams and aspirations of a new and young Sri Lanka.”
Q | How do you feel about the concept of the competition and its notion to build a relationship with the sea and surrounding, the symbiotism of art influencing and interacting with the environment, in terms of your perspective as an architect?
A |Human beings are naturally bound in a timeless relationship with both the land and the sea. Urban environments, more often than not, disrupt this relationship. So the works of art to be commissioned through this competition, could potentially challenge the observer to find new meaning and new ways of relating to the rapidly changing urban form and seafront – by engaging their minds and senses in new ways. It could bridge the gap between the man-made and the natural in new ways. People from different backgrounds and personal histories with the city of Colombo, will relate in their own individual and personal way with each sculpture, thereby finding unity and a shared sense of ownership of the new urban fabric.
Q | In your experience and career, what do you think the biggest challenge artists are facing today and what are you liking about the emerging artists?
A |By and large artists have faced similar challenges throughout the ages. However, the constant exposure to very visual content and the way it influences the market, is particularly challenging in our times. To express themselves with authenticity, yet be relevant, artists have to balance their need for the market with a detachment from it. That is particularly hard with the constant, pervasive and very visual presence of digital media, as well as the influence marketing platforms wield on the whole process of bringing art to the public and patrons.
I love the way contemporary artists are defying the conventional boundaries of their artform, with technology, new materials and unconventional collaborations across different fields.
Q | What advice do you have for the artists?
A |These artworks are more about the interactive experience with visitors, rather than pure visual aesthetic. Pay close attention to that and be sensitive to the surrounding environment. Be authentic, be true to your own spirit and just have fun, enjoy the process.
From the ‘Cloud Gate’ in Chicago, America to the ‘The Shoes on the Danube Bank’ in Budapest, Hungary, public art sculptures have made a mark or conveyed a message to the city and society. The artists take on a social agenda and through these ideologies envision to build a relationship between the environment and its people. Ruchi Jeyanathan, in conversation we find, foresees that the purpose of the competition becomes crucial in bridging the distance between human beings and the city, finding parts of themselves in each work of art and through this relate to the urbanscape, find personal connections in the way that they feel the city holds history although it is new. The significance of public art in new cities and urbanscapes is that it is the component that connects the people to their city, culturally, and socially.