Pylon and Pier is a public sculpture commission for ‘SCULPTURE AT Bermondsey Square’ by British artist Lucy Tomlins.
With ‘Pylon and Pier’, Tomlins takes the public square as the work’s starting point. Traditionally this is where statues of distinguished people are sited, usually placed there to reinforce notions of power or national prestige. Tomlins’ sculpture reverses this, however, presenting a statue of the Titan Atlas – not as in Greek mythology holding up the sky for eternity, but fallen from its plinth and, grasping the globe, lain on its side. The viewer’s gaze, which would normally be directed upwards in awe, now stares across on the felled colossus drained, the loss of his mythological strength underscored by the diminutive size of his body – he is only 1.4 metres in height, thus allowing the beholder a more intimate interaction with the work.
Tomlins’ use of Atlas is a direct visual reference to another inspiration for the work, American poet Wallace Stevens’ poem, ‘The Public Square’ (1931), which describes the demolition of a modernist building as a metaphor for systemic collapse. After the dust settles, all that remains, Wallace avers, is, ‘The bijou of Atlas, the moon/Was last with its porcelain leer.’
Pylon and Pier was inspired by the following poem:
A slash of angular blacks
Like a fractured edifice
That was buttressed by blue slats
In a coma of the moon.
A slash and the edifice fell,
Pylon and pier fell down.
A mountain-blue cloud arose
Like a thing in which they fell,
Fell slowly as when at night
A languid janitor bears
His lantern through colonnades
And the architecture swoons.
It turned cold and silent. Then
The square began to clear.
The bijou of Atlas, the moon,
Was last with its porcelain leer.
The Public Square by Wallace Stevens, 1931