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‘Fragments of Memory’, photograph: Richard Stonehouse
‘Fragments of Memory’, photograph: Richard Stonehouse

Visit London’s most secretive new public artwork

Bouke de Vries’s piece marks the second anniversary of the pandemic

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell
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In a secret garden tucked away in Bloomsbury, a new piece of public art has just been unveiled. ‘Fragments of Memory’ by Dutch artist Bouke de Vries takes the form of an ‘exploded’ soy sauce vase, which might on the face of it seem a rather random subject for a piece of outdoor sculpture in London. However, the layers of meaning in the piece and the special resonance of its unveiling give a particular poignancy to the work.

Described as a ‘message of the acceptance of trauma and the beauty of healing’, ‘Fragments of Memory’ coincides with the second anniversary of the start of the pandemic. But it was not originally intended as a piece to mark it. De Vries’s work is sited in UCL’s Japanese Garden. The sculpture's form is drawn from a fractured seventeenth-century Arita soy bottle and reflects on the political, geographical and social fragmentation of Japan's history. The outline of Japan's islands is traced in the fracture lines of the piece.

If you’re not familiar with UCL’s Japanese Garden, it’s a magical and tranquil place, open 24 hours a day, in central London to pause a moment and contemplate whatever needs contemplating (no shortage of subjects right now). There is a raised seating area around the work so it can become a focus point for musing. The garden is also home to a memorial to the Chōshū Five, who sneaked out of Japan in the 1860s, when foreign travel was illegal in the country, travelled to London and studied at UCL before returning to their home country with revolutionary results.

Along with the news that the Covid Memorial Wall on the Embankment has had a bit of a spruce-up, be sure to visit this very particular milestone of the pandemic in London and take a moment…  

UCL Japanese Garden, 27-28 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AH.

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