Hidden in Plain Sight

Exploring London's public sculpture with Annie

Over the past months, with museum and theatre doors closed, we have all had to find alternate ways to satisfy our cultural urges. Suddenly, our public sculptures, scattered in their plenty around our city and liberated from the confines of social distancing, have taken on a new and glorious role!

Hidden in Plain Sight is my ode to London’s public sculptures. For this feature I will offer tours to help you get a grip on the art you never knew existed right on your doorstep. 

Tour 1: Euston Road

First up, I take you on a short walk from Kings Cross St Pancras and along Euston Road.

1) Conrad Shawcross, Paradigm, 2016

2) Paul Day, The Meeting Place, 2006

3) Eduardo Paolozzi, Newton, 1995

4) Antony Gormley, Planets, 2002

5) Emily Young, Archangel Michael - The Protector, 2004

Google Map

Find all the sculpture locations and tour routes on our special Google Map accessed below.

This map will show an ever growing network of public artworks to keep you informed whilst out and about.

Hang it Sculpture Tours

 

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Create a free account with the log in below, download the app and you can follow the tours yourself!

Tagged map: Sculpture Tour 1

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Video transcript

*Introductory music*

 

Welcome to Hang it. My name is Annie and today I am going to be doing a feature on some of the public sculptures that we have around us in London - sculptures that are sometimes hidden in plain sight that you wouldn’t necessarily expect or haven’t come across before. We’re gonna be starting today right next to St Pancras Station and we are going to make our way along Euston Road, looking at four or five different sculptures as we go.

 

First up we are outside the Francis Crick Institute to look at the first sculpture in our feature and it is this sculpture here BY Conrad Shawcross. The Francis Crick Institute is a research Insitute  focussing on biology, human health and specifically on human health and disease. In 2016 when the institute opened it asked for proposals for a piece of public sculpture to sit right outside. Shawcross' work is all about embracing new ideas and celebrating scientific progress which is the aim of the institute and the whole concept behind the work, which is called Paradigm, based around the assertion that science moves in great big shifts, rather than gradually. And each triangular form represents a shift, each getting larger and more dominating, all balancing on that initial small idea, almost in a precarious way. 

 

So, now that we have talked about Conrad Shawcross’ incredible Paradigm Shift we are going to head over the road, right into St Pancras station and go and find a sculpture inside.

 

*Interim music*

 

So the sculpture we are going to be talking about here in St Pancras station is by an artist called Paul Day. It’s a huge sculpture that was commissioned for everybody arriving as they get off the Eurostar. Now the first thing that I think of whenever I see this sculpture is of that amazing scene in Love ACtually when everyone is meeting at Heathrow airport and amazingly Paul Day actually said that that was the inspiration for  this piece. It’s all about that sense of being reunited with our loved ones. This piece of work actually got massive criticism when it was first opened with all sorts of professional artists and gallery owners saying they thought it was really ugly, that it was a terrible example of public sculpture, but the artist really stands by the fact that it's really accessible, everyone can understand what it is, and also that it just clearly tells the story of two people coming together after a long journey which is what the commission was for.

 

One year after the sculpture was unveiled the artist then added this frieze and that got much better reception from the public. The frieze depicts a range of scenes relating to the history of british train travel and these really include histories ranging from the use of the underground in wartime all the way through to memorials to the london terror attack in 2005. So whilst the sculpture was intended really to tower over the station as visitors arrive, the frieze is much more of an intimate experience and was intended to catch passers by and take them on bit of a journey reflecting upon travel and its history and how that is captured here.

 

So next up on our tour was going to be the British Library which has a number of really amazing sculptures. Unfortunately because of Covid-19 they aren’t letting me in to do lots of filming. But, I managed to get some sneaky snippets and I am now going to tell you a little bit about this sculpture of Sir Isaac Newton who was of course a mathematician, scientist, astronomer and philosopher. So it makes sense that he is being celebrated and memorialised here at the British Library. It is a sculpture made by Eduardo Paolozzi. The composition is actually based on a watercolour done by William Blake in the 1700s. Blake was always critical of Newton for being scientifically focussed. Newton is so absorbed by the measurements that he is looking at that he is totally oblivious to the natural beauty of the world around him. Paolozzi tried to bring together that celebration of poetry and natural beauty celebrated by Blake and bring it into relationship with the scientific genius of Newton. You can see there is a kind of robotic quality to this figure - that is really typical of Paolozzi’s work. Paolozzi’s main preoccupation - with the rise of the machine in the 21st century; the garnering of human knowledge - these are all things that are really important to us today in our technological and social media driven moment.

 

So, even years after Paolozzi’s sculpture was installed in 1995, Antony Gormley’s sculpture Planets arrived. Antony Gormley has loads of public sculpture in London and is an artist who primarily makes sculptures in response to the human body. These pieces have been brought to the UK from Sweden. The stones range from being hundred to millions of years old. Gormnley took the rocks and had people - usually people he knew, so friends and family - to embrace the rocks with their bodies. And he then carved their forms into the surfaces bringing the human body and natural world into harmony. The title of their work - Planets - also adds another dimension positioning the union of man and nature into the context of the greater universe. 

 

The next piece of sculpture I want to talk about is by a female artist called Emily Young - a sculptor. And it is situated in the courtyard of the St Pancras New Church just off Euston Road. So let’s go and find it. 

 

*Interim music*

 

So we have now arrived at St Pancras New Church. There is a little bit of a haven of silence and solitude here. We are looking at a stone sculpture carved by Emily Young and it is quite an archaic looking piece of sculpture. As you can see, we have a beautiful carved face with closed eyes and a large section of it missing just off the side there. SImilarly to Antony Gormley and his ancient carved stones, Young’s practice has always been preoccupied with reconnecting with the natural world. She’s interested in how human beings across millennia have emerged. Her interest is in this eternal and ongoing relationship that all human beings have with the earth and much of her work explores the ancient traditions of finding human-like qualities cast in natural stone and using that as the starting point for a human figure in her sculpture. 

 

This sculpture was actually placed here in 2005 as a memorial to the London bombings. On the 7th of July 2005 a number of bombs went off on various public transport routes across london during morning rush hour and 52 people were killed and over 700 people were injured. On the accompanying plaque reads the words: “in memory of the victims of the 2005 July attack and all victims of violence”, and there is then a line from Psalm 121 accompanying it. “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills”.

 

*End of transcript*