The Purpose of mosaic and its future place in Jubilee Gardens

Life and eternity have no meaning – unless we find or give our life a purpose and a meaning.

Mosaic is an artistic medium that suits some, but not all. There are those who feel it is too compromised by religious or “power” connections: its most frequent historical link is with churches, cathedrals, mosques and temples – or with the atriums of powerful national institutions such as parliament or the National Gallery.

Some critics have sought to label it as merely a craft, a way to clad tube stations, or showers and swimming pools with colour and pattern. As though all painting should be labelled a craft, because some people paint their living rooms with magnolia? Clearly there is a craft element in mosaic, but the flame of fine art has long burned, from, for example the 800 BCE (Before the Common Era i.e. BC) Pellas mosaics in Greece, up to the works of Suzi Balazs, Emma Biggs, Tessa Hunkin and Jo Thorpe today.

The Venetians and many others have for a long time felt that mosaic was the best visual art form.  Titian called mosaic the “highest” art form, and Domenico Ghirlandaio described mosaic as “vera pittura per I’eternita” (true painting for eternity). This may point to the fear that modern man, with his short-term breakdown, his inability to think beyond the day, let alone week, has for mosaic. How can we think so long-term when we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow?

That’s why, when we talk about mosaic at Jubilee Gardens, we have to say that it is temporary, it is a short-term installation, to get through to the controllers, the managers who supervise the evaluations and seek the nod of the leaders, who manage the experienced experts and keep in touch with the politicians, who work incredibly hard for the agreement of stubborn behind the scenes secrets…….until the artisans arrive to get the job done. The great thing about mosaic is if you want it to last longer than your five year (or five day) temporary plan, then you have the option.

Don’t you think we need our Egyptian moment, here in the centre of London, peaceful and rational, to move this Jubilee Garden thing out of the control of those who have failed to do anything for forty years; not to disrespect them, but just to let us get the job done!

The definition of mosaic given to me by Kings College lecturer Will Wootton, shows the difficulty it faces: “Mosaic is a surface formed of discontinuous material” – it means that almost every piece of material laid, in some form or other, is mosaic. So, it partly depends on whether we like gray everywhere, or some other pattern and form?

Take for example some of the famous buildings that owe a lot to mosaic: The Taj Mahal, the mosque at Esfahan, the Alhambra in Granada, St Pauls Cathedral,  St Peters Rome, Saint Sofia in Istanbul – all are renowned additions to the world’s heritage – so while some do not like mosaic, there will be others who find it attractive. Perhaps at its best, you don’t even realise it is mosaic. Interestingly, there is a lot of mosaic in the South Bank already, about 20% of the South Bank Centre is covered in mosaic tile; 100% of TV Centre is (apart from the windows), and much of Sea Containers House, as well – it’s just they forgot, in their industrial exuberance, you don’t have to use only one colour!!!

Here are some reasons why mosaic is eminently suitable for Jubilee Gardens:

  • It is durable and low maintenance
  • Mosaic can be made as a small piece of exquisite work ( which goes against the tendency to put one huge piece of usually simplistic art work in a place, which everyone sees – usually made by some famous bloke; some like and others hate, and which is currently being planned for Jubilee Gardens from the pics – it sort of gets rid of the “art” or aesthetics issue for the hard pressed committee)
  • Helps to break up the endless amounts of cement that currently dominate our public spaces causing mental health problems and provoking grafitti
  • Capable of being worked on by teams of people, so many can help: it is a uniquely social art form
  • Can link a place to its history and in Britain we have a fascination for history which goes deep into our psyche
  • Mosaic creates a sense of place – you know you have arrived at somewhere significant
  • It will create employment, for artists, artisans and active citizens: as a labour intensive activity these positions cannot be outsourced
  • We will connect to our deepest self, by giving a gift to others, enabling all of us to feel proud of our achievements

Southbank Mosaics’ studios are currently linked to some of the greatest mosaic artists in the world and it would be good to take advantage of their skills (notably Tessa Hunkin and Jo Thorpe who’ve both done a lot of recent work at Westminster Cathedral). I’m sure plenty of others will be pleased to join in as well. We’re offering a gift, of the highest quality, and our team have found an interesting theme (celebrating the achievement of women), with historic roots in the area. This will compliment the statues of men in Parliament Square, across the river. It would of course be decent to have some reference to whose Jubilee it is? Has anyone ever heard of a local Queen? Or are the managers too busy hunting for that incredibly difficult…what’s it called?