With Pylon and Pier, Tomlins takes the public square as the work’s starting point. Traditionally this is where statues of distinguished people are sited, usually placed there to reinforce notions of power or national prestige. Tomlins’ sculpture reverses this, however, presenting a statue of the Titan Atlas – not as in Greek mythology holding up the sky for eternity, but fallen from its plinth and, grasping the globe, lain on its side. The viewer’s gaze, which would normally be directed upwards in awe, now stares across on the felled colossus drained, the loss of his mythological strength underscored by the diminutive size of his body – he is only 1.4 metres in height, thus allowing the beholder a more intimate interaction with the work.
Tomlins’ use of Atlas is a direct visual reference to another inspiration for the work, American poet Wallace Stevens’ poem, The Public Square (1931), which describes the demolition of a modernist building as a metaphor for systemic collapse. After the dust settles, all that remains, Wallace avers, is, ‘The bijou of Atlas, the moon/Was last with its porcelain leer.’
Says Tomlins: ‘Though not didactic, my work has often involved subtle social commentary, so I took this opportunity to consider the nature and function of the public square, as a space for the coming together of the community, a place with a function as a meeting place, and a location for democracy and power shifts.’
Says director of Vitrine and SCULPTURE AT, Alys Williams: ‘Lucy Tomlins’ practice is focused on sculpture and the dialogue around this medium, and she has taken the very idea of sculpture in public space as her starting point. I am excited to see this new ambitious work come into fruition, as the launch commission of the new phase of SCULPTURE AT Bermondsey Square; a project that is at the core of our commitment to artistic experimentation and development, and programming outside the white cube.’