Homeless art: Sculpture of rough sleeper makes people look twice on streets of London

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 June 2016

A mystery figure has been making people reconsider how they view homeless people in an artist's new project in London

A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
Maxwell Rushton, the artist who created works out of his own blood, is working with bags again – this time crumpled, apparently afflicted sculptures made out of black sacks, crouched to resemble homeless people sheltering on the streets of London.

These figures are empty, the idea aimed at finding out how passers-by react to the unsettling proposition of seeing a shroud hunched over on a corner. “Some people had no idea what it was and some people just walked past,” says Rushton, whose bin liners encase jesmonite casts.

“We had this one chap who came over and tore it to pieces...he tore the binbag off it. I had to run over and calm him down.

A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
“I wanted to create a visual cue that would offer that some impact. It very much needed to exist in the same context around people in the street and passers-by. I knew that it would, inevitably, have people completely disregard it, as we often do.

“It’s difficult to handle for anyone but you get really good at it – you get too good at it, so good at it that you find it funny. You don’t really give a s*** about someone suffocating in a binbag on the streets. That was surprising.”

Based on Rushton’s own experience of apologising to a binbag when he mistook it for a homeless person last year, the creation has certainly drawn people in. Some remained indifferent, but others peered over the work or tried to comfort it.

A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
“That sort of weird feeling of dread followed me for a few weeks and I wondered what to do with it,” says the artist, recalling how Left Out began. “How I saw the homeless after that was significantly different.”

His emotions echo those of some of the people who have seen the bag. “I’m definitely not exempt from trying to shut out that side of my day when I am confronted with a version of myself that has had a difficult time.”

The most resonant reaction, for Rushton, came from a man on Westminster Bridge voicing his concern that the homeless might be seen as garbage. “It was really lovely to hear the thoughts inside his head that I had inside mine. There are so many reasons why I make art but having someone understand a piece in the exact terms that I’ve made it in is a really encouraging thing.

A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
“The people who didn’t know what it was and rushed over…that was really fantastic to see them immediately want to help this object which they thought was a person in distress.”

With the number of rough sleepers rising, exposing the predicament of the homeless could be the first step to increasing awareness and action among a naturally avoidant society.


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
A photo of people looking at a sculpture of a binbag on a city street
© Liam Thomson
Three unexpected places to find art in

, Leeds
Tim Etchells' Where the Art Is, a neon work sitting just beneath the roofline of the Leeds building, is a fragment of the well-known phrase ‘home is where the heart is’, intended as  a hidden prompt for the viewer to think, remember and wonder about the things, people, ideas and places that really matter to them.

, Bradford
This summer, two parks in Bradford will host new Indian gardens, painted directly on to the paving by Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi. But this garden within a garden does not provide a refuge from conflict, or a haven from the outside world. Instead inspired by the history of the million-strong British Indian army that fought in the First World War, Qureshi transforms a public space into zones in which light and dark mix, horror and hope collide.

Junction of Woodford Green High Road and Broomhill Walk, London
David McFall, the figurative sculptor who produced it in bronze, set a sculpture of Winston Churchil in the Woodford constituency where Churchill was MP for between 1945 and his death in 1965. It was one of 16 public sculptures listed by Historic England in January.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
I am an art teacher and shown my student this work, thank you for making us think about how we treat homeless people.
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