Art Mediation / Best Practices / Learn about Art in Public Space

When art needs no words to talk (Part I): the context factor

When public art needs no words to talk it is because it is able to create an impact by itself. From object to emotion, from concept to captured and materialised idea. But what makes a work of art in the public space a remarkable piece? What are the secrets to connect with wider audiences?

Along this article we will analyse 5 examples, 5 “cases of study around the context factor” in order to make a first approach to the given question with an analytical spirit. Because when art is placed in the public space and it is able to communicate then, a new reality is build; a new perspective transforms our daily life and all of the sudden, magic seems to appear.


Let’s start with one of the latest graffitis of street art megastar Bansky. His work clearly exemplifies how a connection with social-political context makes a work of art more readable by audiences. May people looking at this particular work of art in 100 years time not understand it, but today we all know what Bansky is talking about. The three spies “snooping” on a telephone box in Cheltenham (UK) are in fact an invitation to reflect about NSA, the National Security Agency (USA) responsible for global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information. World news have indeed prepared us to better understanding of Banky’s piece. Connecting with “current affairs” has facilitated the generation of a dialogue between Bansky’s work and us, the audiences.


Bansky in Cheltenham, UK
Image by: the museum of urban art


But context is not only about current affairs, in fact making the most of  a location of the piece, or inversing the factors: creating a work of art for a particular context, can add to the whole a “plus factor” as Oak Oak’s “Bruce Lee” in Saint Etienne or  “Lost Eye” show.  When interacting with its surroundings, some painting and damaged street furniture can be transformed into appealing works of art.  If we look once more to Bansky’s in Cheltenham work, we will appreciate that he has also used this same strategy; as the telephone box is a crucial part of his composition.

Oak Oak Bruce Lee & Lost eye
Bruce Lee (left) Lost Eye (right), France by Oak Oak
Images by: Oak Oak


“The fallen project” will help us to undercover the next layer of context significance: its historical backgrounds. This temporary public space installation gets its complete meaning and emotional strength from its particular location. The silhouettes etched into the sand would meant something else if they where placed at the coast of Spain than in the beaches of Normandy. Indeed the work was meant to commemorate Peace Day and remember the 9,000 fallen civilians, German forces and Allies that died during the D-day landings on 6th June 1944 during WWII.  “The fallen project” does also work so well because is able to visualise a key fact of this historical event: the actual human loss.  Through our eyes we can easily embrace what it happened and feel its human dimension. In words of one of the promoters of this project:

“On Peace Day we quietly and harmoniously drew 9000 people in the sand so that people can understand the loss with their own eyes.  This was a quiet day with a very loud statement.”  Jamie Wardley

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The Fallen Project by Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley
The Fallen project Video:


We can not forget about the human factor, interacting with our audiences is in fact another form of contextualising a given work of art. “Pulse of the City”by George Zisiadis  is an interactive public art installation that turns pedestrians’ heartbeats into music. It consists of a large red heart with a speaker and handles mounted on a pole in the sidewalk. When visitors hold onto the handles, they hear their heartbeat layered over with custom music produced from their real-time pulse data. “Pulse of the City” does indeed connect with its context in a whole new way!


Yes we can interact with context in a way or another but art can also try to transform it and at this point: interruption occurs. As the “New Rules of Public Art” state: “interruptions to our surroundings or everyday activities can open our eyes to new possibilities” (Rule 7). In the following example, irish graffiti artist Maser transforms a derelict gas station into a colorful installation (Limerick City, Ireland)

Maser Installation No.27
Installation Nº 27 by Maser

To be continued…

Do you know any other good examples as well? Share them with us! 

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