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Coventry Crosses Cultures and Breaks Down Barriers with Art: Debate

Originally published 5 November 2003

To celebrate the unveiling of internationally renowned German artist Jochen Gerz's public art in Coventry, the University of Warwick is to host the only major public event to debate the outcome of the project on Saturday 29th November 2003, 10am-6pm.

In November 2003 Gerz's controversial, unusual, and much-debated works of art, the Future Monument and the Public Bench, will be unveiled and the Millennium Place, the jewel in the crown of the Phoenix Initiative, opened.

Four years ago the Phoenix Initiative, Coventry City Council's £55m Millennium regeneration project, commissioned avant-garde artist Gerz to create two art works in Coventry city centre. Fifty-three community groups across the city and over 3000 people have put their names forward to be incorporated in the two works.

Both pieces explore the themes of friendship, and of reconciliation. They subvert the idea of commemoration, turning spectators into artists as they invite viewers to be part of history by engaging in the creative process. Through the Bench and Future Monument Coventrians have publicly announced their friends or heroes by having a plaque linking their name with another attached on the art works.

The Future Monument, a symbol of the city's commitment to creating a common future for different pasts, is a five-metre high glass obelisk. Lit from inside, the monument is surrounded by plaques naming enemies of the past who have become friends.

The 45 metres long Public Bench, sweeps round the north edge of Millennium Place, and is also covered with plaques. Small plaques cover the concrete back of the bench and each bears the names of pairs of Coventry people or visitors and marks a special relationship.

Dr Jonathan Vickery, Conference Organiser and Lecturer at the University of Warwick, said: “These works by Jochen Gerz change the face the city centre and take Coventry, a city largely shaped by bombing and conflict, into the future. They are set to help transform part of the city centre of Coventry, which has, until recently been considered by some as an eyesore.”

“Jochen's work is about reconciliation. Apart from a few World War Two veterans, for whom painful memories of the war still prove traumatic, the idea has been well received. When tensions are high, for example following September 11th, symbolic works become even more important, particularly as Coventry is a city of peace and reconciliation."

"A monument can commemorate, warn, or take sides, but the Future Monument celebrates tolerance. This is particularly important for Coventry, as despite its current ethnic diversity, it is still bound up with the Second World War and its aftermath.”

The first part of the symposium will focus on Coventry's art-works and the role they play in regeneration. The second part will look at the role of public art in society and the future of art. Topics to be debated include the function of public art and the connections between local, regional and national identity and art.

For more information contact:
Dr Jonathan Vickery,
Department of History of Art,
University of Warwick,
Office: 024 76 523459,
Mobile: 07801 544 956,

Jenny Murray,
Communications Office,
University of Warwick,
Tel: 02476 5784 255