Owners of The Shard, the State of Qatar and Sellar, have unveiled WE, the first sculptural installation in London by world-renowned Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa that is accessible to the public.
WE comprises two parts facing each other, as if in dialogue, with one installed in The Shard’s piazza and the other suspended above the escalator outside the building by London Bridge station.
The Shard’s owners commissioned the piece, with curatorial support from Futurecity and a specially formed public art advisory committee, for those visiting, living and working the area to experience. It connects the two areas of public realm within Shard Quarter.
The sculptural installation references the idea of a mirror – a recurrent theme in Jaume Plensa’s work. In a first for the artist, one figure has been anchored to the ground, reflecting its status as being rooted to the history and context of the London Bridge area, while the other is suspended in the air, in an evocation of spirituality and the notion of rising above daily challenges.
Alongside the mirroring theme, the piece also represents diversity – something for which London is famous – with sculpted letters and characters from seven different alphabets featured within the sculpture. These individual letters and characters are positioned in a random patterning, representing the universality of being human and cells of the body. The text and hollow structures invite the viewer to look inside, providing framed views of the surrounding environment and others within it.
The sculptural installation is the first created by Plensa in London that people can see and interact with in a public space. It is located in the home city of one of his artistic inspirations, William Blake. For this work, a quote from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell perfectly encapsulates Plensa’s inspiration for the artwork: “one thought fills immensity”. This is a sentiment reflected in WE, as it fills the large public space with energy.
The sculpture is designed to give the public a chance to frame their individual perspectives, as they walk through Shard Quarter, taking in one figure, followed by the other. By establishing a link between the two, it aims to inspire the viewer to consider the notion of self, alongside the people around them.
A significant part of Plensa’s work is in the field of sculpture in public places, with installations in several cities in Spain, France, Japan, England, Korea, Germany, Canada and USA. The Crown Fountain, which was unveiled in Chicago’s Millennium Park in 2004, is one of Plensa’s largest projects. The work led to many commissions, adding to the list of works by Jaume Plensa in public places right up to the most recent, including Julia (2018) in Madrid, Voices (2018) in New York, and Dreaming (2017) in Toronto.
Jaume Plensa said: “The dialogue between The Shard and London Bridge station is a wonderful metaphor about the fusion of avant-garde and tradition. The perfect place to celebrate the diversity of the world – the true soul of London.”
James Sellar, Chief Executive of Sellar, developer and co-owner of The Shard, said: “Jaume Plensa’s sculpture at the Shard is a fitting subject for his first public installation in London. By putting multiple alphabets together on a single human form, it celebrates the linguistic diversity of the human family. After a year in which people were separated from each other, the idea of exploring human connection through art is something we are keen to celebrate, especially if it becomes a new meeting point for visitors to the Shard and London Bridge, playing a part re-connecting people in our city.”