A baby slumbers serenely in a meadow. It could have been some Renaissance pastoral painted by Tintoretto. But this baby is 10m long, weights seven tonnes and is made from bronze and steel painted white to resemble marble. And it appears to be floating weightless above the grass. Maybe a Dali is the correct comparison?
Acclaimed British artist Marc Quinn's Planet, the 2004 sculpture depicting his then-seven-month-old son, was permanently installed at Singapore's spectacular Gardens by the Bay earlier this month thanks to the generosity of donors Mr and Mrs Putra Masagung.
Previously displayed at England's Chatsworth House and the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco, Planet takes its place among more than 40 other artworks which reflect not only the Garden's but Singapore's commitment to an essential and ongoing dialogue between the natural and the artificial worlds which began with the city state's founder, Stamford Raffles.
It's a dialogue which Quinn, who came to prominence with fellow YBAs (Young British Artists) Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin during the 1990s, has also been having for much of his professional career.
One need only recall his 1991 self-portrait Self, made from nine pints of his own blood. Or 2001's Lucas, like Planet a representation of his son but this time incorporating the actual placenta and umbilical cord.
Then there is perhaps his most famous sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant, the 12-tonne marble statue which adorns the fourth plinth of London's Trafalgar Square. As Michael Squire writes in The Art of the Body - Antiquity and its Legacy: "Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant looks to the Venus de Milo in an effort to champion a wholly non-canonical image of beauty (or indeed disability)."
Natural and artificial. Permanence and impermanence. Perfection and imperfection. Growth and decay. It's all there. But what does it mean for an artist to engage with such a provocative - in the sense of the profound yet subtle interplay between the natural and the artificial - environment as Singapore's Gardens by the Bay?
"Sculpture is about the same kinds of things Gardens by the Bay is about," says Quinn on the line from Singapore, where he had attended Planet's unveiling. "Our relationship to nature and to what is natural, what is artificial - these questions. Because the Gardens are natural but also very artificial in that they are quite controlled. It's about human intervention in nature.
"And for me Planet is about that same relationship to environment. You have a baby that is a huge thing, much bigger than you are. But because it's a baby, it's also an image of vulnerability and it needs nurturing. It's about how we're a part of nature and that we have to look after it."
Asked about what kinds of reactions he expects to Planet, Quinn admits he doesn't know. And that's a good thing. "That's what is so interesting about doing art in public spaces - you have no idea what's going to happen," he says. "Anything can happen. Which is much more interesting than doing art in a gallery, where the person who walks through the door has already decided they like art."
Quinn says Singapore's long-term commitment to fostering the arts as an integral part of society is a good vision.
"I think art is something that, even if people don't even like what they see, at least it gets them to engage in a different way to what they are doing," he says. "It gives a lot of pleasure to people. Let's not forget too that art gives a spiritual dimension to your life in many ways."
He says cities such as Perth benefit in the same way.
"If you use the public spaces of the city for art and you start engaging with art in a more serious way, lots of things happen," he says. "You're engaging the people who live there in a kind of debate. And giving people ideas and pleasure in an unexpected way. It enriches your life."I think of the inspired brilliance of some of Perth's public art, such as Ascalon. And I am hopeful. Then I think of Elizabeth Quay and, well . . .
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