For anyone looking up at City Hall in Le Havre this month, you'd forgive them for mistaking an art installation for the real thing. Seagulls seemingly lined up along the rooftops of the Normandy building are in fact 200 life-size sculptures crafted by British artist and designer, Patrick Murphy.
The new public art installation in France, titled 'Sense of Belonging (To every bird, its own nest is beautiful)', has been permanently installed as part of the Un Été au Havre summer festival, which runs every year from June to September. The seagulls are made of resin and fixed to the building via stainless steel legs, and appear in five different positions, each arranged individually and in groups.
The sculptural works are laid across the facade of the symbolic City Hall building, which was designed by famous architect Auguste Perret in the 1950s – the same architect who rebuilt Le Havre after it was bombed in World War II. The city has since been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2005 because of its fine examples of architecture.
Murphy's gulls only add to the grandeur. Designed to occupy the City Hall, using the building as their new home, they pay homage to what is already a familiar sight in the streets of Le Havre. Although the new installation references the birds' familiar visibility and increases their number, it might also be a disturbing or pleasing sight depending on whether you like birds in general. For instance, some might see them as a looming threat – The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock springs to mind – while others may view them as a crucially characteristic and beloved element of any coastal town.
It's this tension and ambiguity that is central to much of Murphy's work, which tends to explore the relationships we have with spaces and places in our shared landscapes. In his artistic practice, birds often serve as an anthropomorphic reflection of certain human situations and tensions and show a way to find a sense of home or shared territory. "The city has so much art and design history, including being the setting and inspiration for Claude Monet's famous 1872 painting 'Impression, Sunrise' which gave rise to the artistic term Impressionism," says Murphy. "The work is part of a continued evolution on a theme of home and shared space – something that all of us has had to consider during the pandemic."
Whether you love or hate them, the seagulls join various art and design installations across the northern French city including the 'Volcano', a landmark by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, who also designed the city of Brasilia, as well as a piece by Karel Martens.
Un Été au Havre in Normandy, which translates to 'A Summer in Le Havre', runs from June until September every year. You can discover more at en.normandie-tourisme.fr. Other recent works by Patrick Murphy include the Kes 50 Project where he and Anton Want collaborated to create a collection of artworks that celebrated the work of Barry Hines. This marked the 50th anniversaries of both the book, A Kestrel for a Knave and the subsequent film, Kes. Discover more at patrickmurphystudio.co.uk.