In a quest to slow down and observe the city around me, I have discovered several sculptures in Sydney and its inner-city suburbs. Here are my favourite pieces, sculptures that moved me in one way or another.
Some prompted a wide-eyed “wow” moment while others triggered thoughtful contemplation. Some attracted my attention because of their beauty, others their concept or their reason for being moved me.
This list of my best sculptures in Sydney is highly personal. Your list may look different, but at the very least, by seeking these artworks out, you’ll take a stroll through Sydney, looking at her with different eyes and may even discover something new.
Where to find The Best Sydney Sculptures
The first seven sculptures are in the City itself, listed in an order that facilitates an easy walk between them (see map below). You will find the next two in Surry Hills. They are worth visiting as part of a walk through the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills. The last is in Pyrmont, another inner-city suburb you will enjoy discovering.
INNER CITY SYDNEY
These two bronze sculptures of hooded children, one standing and the other doing a handstand evoke very different responses. Caroline Rothwell, the artist, intended to provoke a reaction in the viewer by juxtaposing the hoodies with the innocence of childhood. My daughter finds them “creepy” while I was delighted when I first discovered them.
What is particularly interesting about ‘Youngsters’, is a plaque fixed to a nearby wall. Seemingly part of the artwork, the plaque was added by an unknown individual at a later stage. The wording turns what is a pleasant enough sculpture into a political statement. It encourages the reader to think about children in immigration detention.
Titled “Lest we forget them,” the plaque text continues with “Children seeking asylum in Australia are kept in detention as part of a government policy which inflicts harm on refugees fleeing violence and persecution.”. It continues, “Their suffering is our shame. Here at this site we remember them and together call out for change.”
Commenting on the plaque, Caroline Rothwell said “I agree with the sentiment. Also, part of my idea with the work is that these little hooded figures we generally see as a threatening form are actually vulnerable.”
“I think it’s great that an artwork can be used in the conversation in that way. I don’t feel that it is appropriated, I feel that it is extending the conversation. When the art is out in the public space, you always hope it will take on a life of its own.” (SMH June 2015)
For many years now, Angel Place has been home to 120 suspended bird cages of all shapes and sizes, simple and intricate.
People react differently when they first stumble across the numerous bird cages suspended above them. Some are in awe, for there is a certain beauty in the cages. Others respond negatively, instinctively reacting to the idea of caged birds. They prefer to see birds flying free.
However, there is more to Forgotten Songs than a series of bird cages. Stop and listen to the sound recordings of birdsong mingling with the noise of daily life in the laneway. All in all, fifty birdcalls can be identified throughout the day and night according to when they would have be heard in their natural environment.
Unfortunately, these birds can no longer be heard or seen in central Sydney. They were forced out when European settlement destroyed their habitat. Looking down at the paving, notice the names of the birdsong you hear when you stop to listen.
Like Underwood Ark (see below), Forgotten Songs encourages us to stop and think about the impact of urbanisation on the landscape.
Initially a temporary installation, Forgotten Songs became a fixture of the laneway in 2011.
Chris Fox used two hundred and forty-four of the old 1930’s wooden escalator treads that carried hundreds of people up and down to and from Wynyard Station, to create “Interloop”. This impressive work now twists and loops above the new modern escalators providing a great subject for photographers.
One of my favourite sculptures in Sydney, “Interloop” evokes memories for so many people of when they rode the wooden escalators at Wynyard for a day in the city. It is awesome (in the real sense of the word) how the old wooden escalators at Wynyard Station have been repurposed.
When the sculpture was first unveiled people flocked to Wynyard Station to see and photograph this innovative project which celebrates the historic identity of the city. Today people ride up and down the modern escalators to take in this marvellous installation. Interloop has become one of those bucket list things that visitors to Sydney feel that they must see.
Seeing this sculpture for the first time was a true “WOW” moment for me. Many locals probably don’t even know about this huge blackbutt tree with its carefully sculpted roots suspended horizontally above Underwood Street.
Removed from a forest in Tomerong south of Sydney and stripped of its bark, the tree turned sculpture encourages viewers to reflect on past history, from the original inhabitants of Sydney Cove, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, through colonial times right up to today.
The size and length of the tree is almost overpowering, a reminder that this bustling city of Sydney was once bushland, covered in trees and filled with bird and wildlife.
Like Forgotten Songs in Angel Place, Underwood Ark encourages reflection on the impact of man and development on the environment.
Distance of Your Heart
When “The Distance of Your Heart” by Tracey Emin was first “unveiled”, people walked up and down Bridge street craning their necks searching for one of the sixty-seven little brass birds that together form the artwork. Emin had achieved her aim to encourage people to slow down and to explore their surroundings.
Tracey Emin placed the birds, which are of no particular species and reflect the melting pot of migration in Australia, in various spots along Bridge Street. They sit on windowsills and ledges, rest under benches and in doorways.
Emin says she hopes the work “Make[s] people’s lives in the city go just that little bit slower and if that’s the case I’ll be very very happy.”
Finding the birds is rather like a treasure hunt. I have only managed to find about 26 but each time I walk along Bridge Street, I look for more. It is rather fun sitting and watching others walking along looking for the birds, necks craned upwards. If you want a few hints on where to look, Helen from Destination Differentville has written about her search for the birds in this post.
The trail ends in the birdbath in Macquarie Place Park near the Obelisk of distances, where the final bird is inscribed with the work’s title, The Distance of Your Heart.
Trim the Cat
You would be forgiven if you walked straight past this one, as I did for many years. Poised proudly on a window ledge behind a tall bronze statue of Matthew Flinders is a smaller less obvious bronze cat, blackened with age. This often-overlooked sculpture is of Matthew Flinders’ faithful cat, Trim. Strolling across the window sill, looking back towards Matthew Flinders, most don’t even know he is there.
What is so special about this work? It’s just a cat, right? For me, it’s the story behind Trim that makes this work special.
Trim was born on board HMAS Reliance in 1799. When he fell overboard and then courageously swam back to the boat and clawed his way up a rope to clamber back on board, Matthew Flinders took him under his wing. Trim became known as Matthew Flinders’ cat and he sailed with Flinders on several voyages.
The inscription (written by Matthew Flinders) on a nearby plaque reads:
TO THE MEMORY OF
The Best And Most Illustrious Of His Race
The Most Affectionate Of Friends,
Faithful Of Servants,
And Best Of Creatures.
He Made The Tour Of The Globe, And A Voyage To Australia, Which He Circumnavigated, And Was Ever The Delight And Pleasure Of His Fellow Voyagers.
People in runners and sandals, office workers in suits, or high heels walk over this artwork daily as they walk through Martin Place. Designed by architect Richard Johnson and hand crafted by Jess Dare, this public memorial consists of 210 individually crafted flowers placed in mirrored cubes embedded in the granite paving. Each hand-crafted flower differs subtly from the next.
A plaque reads partly that “This sea of flowers in the heart of the city signifies the heart of the community united in the face of tragedy”.
In December 2014, Martin Place was the site of “the Lindt Café Siege” when Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson were killed. People responded to the tragedy by placing flowers at the site, the area becoming a sea of colour.
When visiting the site, look out for the clusters of aqua hydrangeas and yellow sunflowers which were the favourite flowers of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson respectively.
Lamp for Mary
Sometimes artworks engender a sense of horror and shock. “Lamp for Mary” is one such piece. In Surry Hills lane where Lamp for Mary stands, a lesbian woman named Mary was subjected to a violent attack. Community action resulting from this horrific event led to the creation of this artwork.
The work consists of two parts. On entering the lane, note the pink cursive lettering curving around the brick wall telling the reader the story of what happened:
“This is a lane with a name and a lamp in memory of the woman who survived being beaten and raped here. She happened to be lesbian. When the sun sets this lamp keeps vigil along with you who read this in silent meditation.”
The Lamp itself is a cross between a street lamp and one that may be found in many lounge rooms. By lighting up the laneway at night, the lamp not only increases safety but also represents resilience and hope to the LGBTI community.
The laneway, originally called Floods Lane, was renamed Mary’s Place.
A short walk from Mary’s Place, another work brings together community through the use of simple story telling.
Village Voices is a constantly changing artwork in Surry Hills that gives voice to local stories. The development of each story brings together community and provides the opportunity for those who often don’t have a voice to tell their story.
Ideally situated in a covered public walkway, the artwork consists of a series of large white capital letters hanging below rows of metal tracks. The letters set into the tracks create words forming a story of approximately thirty words. The story changes on a regular basis. It amazes me how poignant and thought provoking so few words can be and I often return to Surry Hills just to read and think about the new story.
People attend locally held workshops to develop stories, although individuals can also participate by posting their ideas in the letter box provided. The artwork, through the workshops and the stories, provides a talking point for locals, encourages community and conversation between strangers.
Tied to Tide
Living as I do on the Hawkesbury River, weather and tidal changes regularly impact my daily life. Perhaps that is why this kinetic sculpture that is literally “Tied to Tide” in Pyrmont Park appeals to me.
Created by Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford, the piece is a creative work of engineering that specifically responds to its’ harbourside location.
Maritime orange ladders are attached with hinges to beams that in turn link to floats on the water. The wind, tide and waves caused by the wash of boats cause the floats to move which causes the ladders to swing.
As the tide rises, the ladders lower towards the water surface. At low tide, they rise almost vertically. They ‘dance’, sometimes slowly and deliberately, at other times with sudden jerky movements, depending on the water. Stand and watch, always the movement is captivating.
What do you think?
These are only ten of my favourite sculptures that I have discovered on my walks in and around Sydney. There are many more.
I wonder if any of these are new to you and if there are others that you would add to this list?