Returning for the third time to Sadie Coles HQ, a contemporary art gallery in central London that opened in April 1997, Sam Durant exhibits his latest body of work ‘Proposal for Public Fountain’ which will run until the 29th of June 2013.
This art exhibition in London focuses on a fountain sculpted from fine, black marble – a prototype for a larger installation in a public setting – together with a series of related graphite drawings. The harsh structure of the piece features a reproduction of an armoured water cannon, which repeatedly sprays jets of water onto a hooded figure bearing an anarchist flag. Poised between detached commentary and acerbic critique, it recasts a contemporary episode of state authoritarianism in the ‘stately’ aesthetics of public stonework.
Durant’s tableau at once expresses the heroism and pathos of the defiant revolutionary. At the same time, a sense of absurdity clings to the frozen forms and intermittently spurting water: anarchist and riot truck alike appear locked in futile gestures. The two antagonists are based on two news photographs sourced online, showing uprisings in Santiago in 2011 and 2012 and the title’s allusion to Duchamp’s Fountain of 1917 – the archetypal ‘readymade’ – subtly underlines the readymade quality of these sources.
The public fountain – customarily an anodyne backdrop to civil uprisings, has become a fraught memorial to such events. As the title suggests, the construction is provisional and subject to revision in different contexts: the series of graphite drawings which are Durant’s first since 2008, maps its potential development. This latest work is one of a series of ambitious projects which explore the form and functions of public structures.
Durant’s long-term interest in public monuments is also reflected in his on-going photographic archive of defaced monuments. In addition, Proposal for a Public Fountain follows a body of work commemorating the key figures of the Italian anarchist movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in a series of marble busts.
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