The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter Public Art Programme
In February 2013 the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University announced the launch of Tracing Venus, the public art strategy and programme for the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ), curated and managed by Modus Operandi. The ROQ is one of the largest developments the University has undertaken for more than a century, and the vision for the public art programme is that is will act as a creative catalyst, connecting people and places within and beyond the Quarter.
The public art strategy is designed to provide an overarching framework for an holistic approach to public art across the ROQ site. This reflects the University’s vision for an integrated campus that encourages collaboration between disciplines. The aim is for the ROQ to become a new cultural quarter in Oxford, which will become widely known as the site of an evolving programme of artistic experiment, open-ended research and interdisciplinary collaboration.
In partnership with The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) a one-day symposium is being planned to present the ROQ public art strategy and programme, explore current thinking and practice in interdisciplinary collaborations, artists’ research projects, and the ideas behind the creation of ‘new place’ within a site of memory. The event is planned to be the first of a series of annual symposia that examine different aspects of the ROQ public art programme, within the context of international developments in interdisciplinary and public art practice.
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University Professor Andrew Hamilton said:
‘I am delighted that the University has commissioned the ROQ public art strategy by Modus Operandi, who are also guiding us in the process of selecting artists as the site develops. Art has a key role to play in creating the new Quarter, forming the backbone of its future cultural life and linking it with the wider city.’
The inaugural ROQ Artist's Fellowship was announced at the strategy launch event by Sir Nicholas Serota, Director Tate. Artist Simon Periton has been appointed with a site-wide brief. This role was conceived to offer an artist the opportunity to develop a cohensive, creative approach to the Quarter.
Simon’s artistic proposal, The Alchemical Tree, is rooted in the ROQ’s history, the physical navigation of the site and the quest for a concept that relates to the site as a whole and evolves with it in the future. His intention is to build upon the concept of cross-pollination and interaction between disciplines. The re-housing of several academic departments within the ROQ suggested to him a re-interpretation of a more historical, classical, university model where interaction between disciplines is actively encouraged, reflecting the development of contemporary ideas within the realms of science as well as art.
Simon’s commission is being developed in an initial research phase in collaboration with TORCH, associated departments located on the site, the ROQ Public Art Sub-Committee, Niall McLaughlin Architects and Townshend Landscape Architects. His initial concept is to create one central sculpture of a golden Alchemical Tree with a crown around its trunk, a symbol connected with growth and transformation and a quest for knowledge. This sculpture will be complemented by smaller satellite works placed across the site relating to the central tree both visually and materially.
Simon Periton said:
‘The discovery of the artwork and the physical experience of traversing/navigating the site should mirror an educational model that promotes cross-fertilisation. The tree symbolises the process of growth and transformation experienced by students as they develop their ideas through focused study at the University; the crown represents the successful attainment of a higher state, a realisation of perfection’.
Image copyright: Edmund Blok