Conversation Piece

6 October 2011

Conversation Piece, Bishopthorpe Road, York

This sculpture has been standing at the corner of Bishopthorpe Road and Scarcroft Road since 2010, though I have to confess I didn’t know about it, and found it by chance, when wandering down Scarcroft Road on my way to the shop on the corner. As I’d just had an unpleasant incident with officialdom, and a reminder of modern paranoias over innocent folks innocently taking photographs, mood-lifting was required, and finding this did the trick.

It’s called ‘Conversation Piece’, and was created by Ailsa Magnus, who was commissioned to create a sculpture representing the past, present and future of the community in this area of York.

The three figures are a woman, a man, and a child. The male figure is a modern-day worker, representing the present, doing his shopping on his way home from work. I liked his facial expression – fretful? overworked? quizzical? bemused? – and the way he’s clutching his bag and briefcase.

Conversation piece – Terry's worker

The woman is holding a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. She (sadly) represents the past, as the factory closed years ago, but many of its once large workforce lived in the area – the factory is further up Bishopthorpe Road, now looking rather decrepit and still awaiting redevelopment.

An inscription on the stone base reads: ‘LISTEN TO THE PAST – TALK ABOUT THE PRESENT – LOOK TO THE FUTURE’. Around it are bricks bearing shapes which also have inscriptions – fragments of conversation, questions – submitted by residents, which range from the general: ‘What if?’ to the more specific ‘Can we stop global warming?’ Like all the best art, this work has depth and ‘a story’, as well as being visually striking, though I didn’t know its story until I got back home and looked it up online.

Sculpture by Ailsa Magnus

The shapes around the base are based on a popular 18th century sweet created by Terry’s, which featured conversation starters such as ‘Can You Polka?’. The sculptor explains that the Terry’s Conversation Lozenge ‘was a very early version of texting or Twitter’ – and she set up a Twitter account so people could tweet suggestions for the text on the 21st century ‘Conversation Lozenges’. Brilliant.

The child, of course, represents the future.

I see the child appears to be holding a plant – a tree sapling perhaps. A lovely symbol of the future – but I hope he gets advice on where to plant it, and doesn’t innocently plant it on a verge somewhere

More information

‘Talk about the present’ – Ailsa Magnus’s blog entry giving an insight into the creation of ‘Conversation Piece’

Terry’s Chocolate Orange image to appear in Bishopthorpe Road art – York Press, 16 Nov 2009

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