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Paintings of human figures
buried airplane

The Retrospective View of the Pathway (pathways), 2016, buried aircraft. Courtesy the artist and Corvi-Mora, London

While Roger Hiorns’s exhibition is on show at London’s Corvi-Mora (through 28 July), ArtReview revisits J.J. Charlesworth’s interview with the artist, first published in its Summer 2016 issue. Hiorns discusses his (now completed) public site project for Bristol, The Retrospective View of the Pathway, and the complicated business of burying passenger jets…

ArtReview Your new public sculpture, The retrospective view of the pathway, commissioned by Art and the Public Realm Bristol, is quite a challenging work for a city to commission.

Roger Hiorns That’s true. This hasn’t happened straightforwardly. It’s a provocative, monumental work in a very conservative area. The factors of the work are very much based on the circumstances of the time of its making, within the timeframe of a very precarious social and economic reality – one that continues. So, how to behave? What is the identity of an artwork that seeks not to offer a platitude to an indifferent public? To not again be the ‘Marie Antoinette’ commission? Essentially, it was an open brief, a budget based on a legal stipulation that an artwork must be made [as part of the planning permission for a mixed-use architectural development on Bristol’s floating harbour]. A developer in receivership after the crash, and the ‘will and testament’ of the whole project under the guidance of PricewaterhouseCoopers – a sort of demi-government – and an insurance company. The architect Stephen Witherford is the last key to this work. And all these ingredients, these incomplete and complete conversations, led to the making of this type of work and what it looks like. It’s a social document and hectoring neighbour…

AR It’s not so much a piece of sculpture as a public edifice with a potential function…

RH It’s a piece of municipal architecture that was once called the ‘free tank’ – the free tank was a space, a ‘nook’ in the built-up bank of the river that allowed ordinary people access to its water. As it turns out, it’s one of the only spaces that Bristol City Council retains as a piece of public land. The surrounding area is identikit, postmodernist shiny surfaces of indistinct and instant architecture. I wanted to go against the lightness and the shallowness of those surroundings by introducing heavy concretes and black granites. It became about wanting to overincrease the density and overdo the balance of the area somehow. I wanted to introduce two forms that we can loosely call ‘furnaces’.

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