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Bruno Catalano - The City Is a Part of Them

Words:

Edd Norval
November 16, 2020

Bruno Catalano’s unique sculptures of workers traversing through the Mediterranean cityscape of Marseille are some of the most eye-catching public works in the world, both for locals and tourists alike. But what do his incomplete figures say about the nature of the individual and the city?

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Depending on where you look at the figures from, you’ll see the missing spaces of their form filled by the landscape and architecture of the iconic city. Looking at them, from near or afar, their form becomes completed by what is around them. These people weren't imagined because they represent the city as much as they are a visual representation of being a product of their environment. Marseille, the city, completes them.


Besides this, they are an acknowledgment of the everyday cogs that help the machine to turn. Akin to the well-known ‘Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat’ in Reykjavik, Catalano’s sculptures champion the ordinary and all the associations that the notion entails. These are people we walk passed 100 times a day without paying any notion. They represent the overlooked and unnoticed, yet are ultimately irreplaceable. 


Ten of these figures are situated around Marseille’s port, unveiled in 2013 to coincide with the promotion of the city as the European Capital of Culture. Marseille is known, first and foremost as a port city, a gigantic and colourful portside venue where the sea and land collide outwards and upwards into an inexplicable expression of unique vitality. Catalano’s sculptures aim to promote this dualistic perspective whilse representing a grounded vision - a reality to the oftentimes absurd.

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Himself from a sailing background, the figures for those on land mainly show the people’s bodies being filled by the sea, whereas those on the sea or beach looking inland will see the people filled by the human and built environment. ‘Les Voyageurs’ exist at the precipice of private and public life, of sea and land, of human and non. 


They’re the invisible made visible, a celebration of the ordinary, yet a melancholic reflection that their lives too, like their physical form, is somewhat incomplete. His statues are figures to meditate on, holding a mirror back at our own lives. People in Marseille like to think. After all, there’s a lot going on there, a lot to think about. These sculptures are excuses to pause and appreciate the beauty of the everyday - of being a human alive in the majesty of Marseille.

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