Designed by Australian artist duo Gillie and Marc, The Friendship Bench will be installed in Halkin Arcade in August. Read the Q&A with the creators, as they discuss the latest piece of public art to be installed in Halkin Arcade and its relevance.
As timing for a piece of public art goes, Gillie and Marc Schattner’s ‘The Friendship Bench’ – against a backdrop of division and a pandemic – could not be more relevant. The sculpture, set to take pride of place in Belgravia’s Halkin Arcade late in August, will stand as a celebration of differences.
It features the Australian couple’s best known-characters, Rabbitwoman and Dogman, unlikely animal kingdom companions that stand for diversity and acceptance through love.
Designed as an interactive contemporary piece, the artists – renowned for their public pieces across the world – invite you to take a seat between their characters and hope to spark a conversation or simply provide an excellent photo opportunity.
Did you envisage just how relevant a statement this artwork now is?
We could never have imagined how important the message of this sculpture could become! There was always a need for people to learn to sit together and discover the beautiful diversity there is in the world, letting go of prejudice and stereotypes.
But it is amazing with the current climate how that message is being pushed. Now, more than ever, we must take the time and get to know people who are different from us. We must let go of the fear that leads us to prejudice, whether that fear is based on the colour of someone’s skin, the religion they choose to follow, or anything that may be different from you.
What role do you think art plays in influencing opinion and thought?
We think art is incredibly important for influencing opinion and thought. Public art, particularly sculpture is expensive and time-consuming. Only works that are considered important enough are given the time and resources. The fact that there is a work of art in a public place is a statement of what is considered important. When this is what the public sees every day, whether consciously or subconsciously, this has an effect, remembering certain people and events from history or bringing a certain emotion to the surface.
That’s why we make sure that our public art brings only the best emotions forward. Whether it’s love, acceptance, conservation, or a story of a local hero, we want to make sure that the only effect, consciously or subconsciously is positive.
How important is public art in places where space is often at a premium?
When space is in short supply the thinking can often be that art should be sacrificed in favour of more important things. But we think this is a big mistake. Art creates emotion, it tells a story, and it brings personality. It can mean the difference between an average space and somewhere extraordinary. Public art can come in all shapes and sizes so lack of space should never be a problem.
How much research do you undertake on an area before creating a piece of art?
Public art is not only something that looks beautiful, it is a part of the local community. We think it’s incredibly important to make sure that our public art is a true part of the community, something that expresses who they are and their ideals. We will often do quite a bit of research, learning about the local history and making sure what we create is representative of the people and the land. It’s also a lot of fun learning about local history!
What overriding emotion would you like people to take away from seeing the piece?
We want people to be filled with love when they leave the bench. ‘The Friendship Bench’ is here to bring people together, both physically and emotionally. With Rabbitwoman and Dogman watching over them, we want this bench to be a safe space where people can sit down and feel comfortable to open up and learn about somebody. By taking the time to understand a person’s beliefs and background, we can start to let go of the fear that comes from ignorance and instead make room for love.
Hyde Park Corner - Halkin Arcade (8 minute walk)
Knightsbridge Station - Halkin Arcade (9 minute walk)
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