Quinn is addressing the refugee crisis in his forthcoming public art project,Our Blood, where over 10,000 people are donating blood for a sculpture that will on display in front of the library’s Fifth Avenue location, theStephen A Schwarzman building, in 2021.
The sculpture features an elegant canopy designed by British architect, Sir Norman Foster, who designed 50 Hudson Yards with his team Foster + Partners. Underneath, Quinn will feature two cubes of blood facing each other (one will hold the blood of refugees, the other will carry the blood of other donors).
“It’s the type of thing you look at and say: ‘I can’t say which one I am, so I must be both,’” said Quinn over the phone from his London studio. “There’s no difference between them. They’re like a gateway, in a way. They’re about arrivals and departures.”
“Once you speak to someone and you realize they are just like you, it’s much easier to connect to the other, I suppose.” said Quinn. “I think a big part of the project is talking about education and outreach.”
VOGUE editor Anna Wintour, U2’s Bono and Paul McCartney have donated blood, so have Sudanese refugees like Angok Mayen and George Okeny, as well as refugees from Somalia, Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan.
“Just because the news cycle has moved on doesn’t mean the issue has gone away,” said Quinn. “Refugees are one of the defining issues of this century’ it’s not just in Europe, it’s in South America, in Asia, in Africa. It’s about refugees in all times, as well. Some refugees from Nazi Germany are still alive.”
Our Blood will embark on a world tour after making its New York debut in 2021 to London, Berlin, Sydney, Los Angeles, Lebanon, Jordan and Tanzania, says Quinn.
“It’s more than a sculpture, it’s a social movement,” he said. “It’s a platform for people’s voices and a quality of people’s voices. It keeps growing in scope.”
Quinn understood the power of public art, especially in 2005, when he created Alison Lapper Pregnant, a marble portrait of a disabled artist in the heart of Trafalgar Square in London.
“If you bring art into the public realm, people rise to the occasion,” he said. “The public realm is where feelings and issues have aired, it’s not just decoration, basically.”It all started when Quinn was reading the news—he came across a photo of refugees migrating across the Mediterranean on a small blow-up boat.
RENDERING OF "OUR BLOOD" IN FRONT OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S STEPHEN A SCHWARZMAN BUILDING. COURTESY OF MARC QUINN STUDIO AND NORMAN FOSTER FOUNDATION
“Seeing that image of all the people squashed into a boat made me think of everyone’s blood squashed together,” he said. “Blood is such an important liquid, it's sacred, it’s our life blood.”
“What’s amazing about DNA is that there’s hardly any difference between any living thing on earth never mind any races or countries or nationality. We share 99% of our DNA with everyone.”
Bringing celebrities onboard is a way to reverse a cliché. “You have a refugee, one of the least valued people in society, then you have Naomi Campbell, Bono or Paul McCartney, some of the most valued people in society. It’s essential to remember that everyone is the same and we have social values put on people.”
Quinn hopes to raise $30m, which will then be donated to refugee charities. Half of the funds raised will be donated to the IRC, an organization that aids refugees worldwide, with the rest of the funds going to other refugee organizations, including Human Love, a charity founded by Quinn.
“It was an estimate, hopefully is lowest number we achieve,” he said. “It’s all non-profit, I’m not making money from it at all.”
Creating an artwork that addresses an issue could be the next step further beyond an artist donating artworks to a cause. “It’s more interesting for an artist to make a work about an issue and raising money that can affect the art canon and the people involved,” he said.