Tuesday, 26 August 2003

ars longa, vita brevis

The installation of work of public art is a special moment, and for that we hold a small celebration and dedication. I would like to speak a bit about public art and how it is different from the domestic arts, those art works that we place in our homes or offices.

First of all – domestic art: easel paintings, watercolours, photographs, collages and montages, engravings and prints, glass and small cast sculpture, ceramics, needlework, found objects, action figures, Kinder Surprises, foreign money, postcards and greeting cards, fridge magnets . . . For all of the images I have a collected in my life I vainly try to find a place in my home. The most recent acquisitions find a prominent place in the living room or the study, the older pieces are relegated to a spare bedroom or hallway or stored in a closet, in a box. In my kitchen I hang posters and postcards and stick my son’s elementary school art work to the refrigerator – things that can be cleaned or thrown out or folded up and put away if damaged or no longer wanted. And in my bathroom, I try to find artwork that will withstand the dampness of the shower and perhaps articulate for me the romance of water and the banality of ablution.

Domestic art for me may be a little bit sentimental, recalling people I have known and worked with over the years, places I have been, or enthusiasms and interests that I have long since left behind. My domestic art might also be a charm, some dangling thing that is sweetly optimistic and speaks to my sunny side, or a talisman, a container for my fears and nightmares – an object that carries good luck, and wards off the bad.

What characterizes domestic art for me, however, is its temporality. We can change it according to our moods. We may acquire it impulsively, rearrange the furniture to accommodate it, paint the walls a different colour to frame it, then in a few months, or a year or two, grow tired of it. It gets knocked and jostled, acquires a wine stain from a party, a chip from the Nerf ball fight the boys had in the living room. The new girlfriend hates it. The old one takes it. Eventually it ends up in a garage sale. The life of an image begins again . . .

But a work of public art? Now that is a different life entirely. A work of public art is not an expression of personal taste or impulsiveness. Public art is a social activity from the beginning, the product of planning committees, juries, and advisory panels. The artist becomes a catalyst for the hopes and fears of the community. A public artwork may reflect a sentimental side or mark a milestone in the community’s history. In this way public art is not so different from its domestic cousin. The expression of the individual becomes the expression of the community.

Public art is different because it is made to endure, because the sun and the rain and the cold and the wind erode even stone over time. The surface must be resilient to withstand the probing and stroking of a million hands and the structure must be sound to support the climbing of a thousand children. Pubic art is made to endure the elements and in so doing, it lives a different life. We see it under different conditions. In the heat of the summer when we seek shelter from the sun and when shade seems hard to find, the artwork does not sweat. In the fall, when the wind blows cooler and the days begin to shorten, the artwork may begin to cast larger shadows, and glow in that peculiar orange light that I associate with autumn, and it will seem somehow strange that the artwork does not regret the passing of summer. In the winter, when we dress to ward off the cold, the artwork is naked but for a thin skein of snow or a decorative trim of icicles. It will appear to laugh at our frailty and our sensitivity to the cold. And in the spring it is new again, in those first warm sunny days, alongside the budding trees it shares that green and yellow light of the next growing season.

Carol Bradley's genius is to give what is durable – glazed and fired clay – the texture, sparkle and magic of lapping water, an image that is at once transitory and timeless. Where this artwork is placed, it won’t be climbed upon or receive the caresses of a million hands, but it will be there through the seasons and the years. In its position over the door I hope that it doesn't develop icicles. Carol has caught the blues, greens and turquoises we associate with a pool of water's colour refractions and she has given them back to us. In the summer when we are dry this Pool will signal the promise refreshment. In the winter, when we are cold, this Pool promises a tepid bath. For toddlers, Carol's Pool will always be associated with Water Babies, a first swim with a parent. For elementary school children, these colours and shapes will be associated with going to swimming lessons. For teenagers, this image of water will become a symbol of early romantic flirtations. For adults, the rippling surface of this artwork may come to represent the bittersweet discipline of regular physical exercise, or the pool lanes may become a symbol of a place of meditation and stress reduction from the burdens of work. Seniors will retain this image in connection with aquabics, the social life that this water activity affords them, and wonderful feeling buoyancy that water can give to an aging body.

The life of this mural will span generations whose memories of home, family and friends will take place under this sign. Children will be born, grow into adults and eventually die, yet the blue, green and turquoise of Carol's mural will continue to lap and sparkle – a constant in our always changing lives.

ars longa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short)

Gordon Hatt, 2003

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