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The art of a true gift

08 Apr 2016

The art of a true gift Image

By Sean Car

A plaque was installed at the Donor Tissue Bank in Southbank last month, placing the finishing touch on artist and former Victorian emergency services commissioner Bruce Esplin’s sculpture “The Gift”.

As Victoria’s first and longest-serving emergency services commissioner, it was this experience as well as his creative abilities as a renowned sculptor that led to the Tissue Bank approaching him to create the piece.

Tucked away at the front of the facility on Moore St, Bruce said the sculpture was the culmination of more than two years of tireless research, discussion and thought.

“One of the biggest privileges in my life was being asked to do this piece and it took a long time because I wanted it to be right and I wanted it to capture as much of the story as possible. There is a lot of emotion in it,” he said.

“After a lot of discussion, we came up with the title The Gift because the reality is that it’s a really significant gift that, at a minimum, can improve the quality of life of somebody and, at a maximum, can save a life and give them a life where they might not have had a life.”

The Gift is an encapsulation of stories and vignettes detailing the emotions and issues surrounding tissue and organ donation in Australia and the story is told through two sculpted hands.

Carved in wood and cast in bronze and corten steel, Bruce said the colours reflected “the warmth of humanity”.  The piece features one hand giving and one receiving – each supported on a separate column.

The big, yet slim, receiving hand reflects fragility while the strong giving hand is attached to a spiraled arm, which Bruce described as “the spiral of despair” to reflect the rollercoaster of emotions from which a donation is often made from.

Each hand sits on top of its own column, reflecting the community in need and the community that can help. Both pillars are connected and disconnected by matte finished steel rods to symbolise conversations between nurses and families and the tissue donations that sometimes don’t work out.

“That was really important to get that message out there – that it’s not a straight forward clinical supermarket arrangement. There are people and feelings deeply involved and there’s only a short period of time for these questions to be asked,” Bruce explained.

“At a time when people’s emotions are at their rawest, these incredibly sensitive nurses make that first conversation about tissue donation, which is just incredible.”

Another important symbol of the piece is the manner in which the receiving hand “comes out from the dark” under a stainless steel sheet which Bruce said reflected the nature of the conversation around tissue donation in Australia.

“There are a lot of metaphors and it’s designed to stimulate the discussion and I’ve got a pretty strong view that we don’t have it right in Australia. I think we don’t talk about it enough,” he said.

“I think there’s so many people waiting for help and so much help that could be given. We really need to have a mature discussion around it and I hope that my sculpture can play a part in stimulating that discussion.”

Head of the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria, Stefan Poniatowski, said Bruce’s sculpture perfectly summarised the emotions and complexities surrounding the issue.

“I think it’s brilliant, I think it’s absolutely nailed what the issues are and it does stimulate the conversation,” he said.

“That’s all that we’re asking people to do is think about it, have a discussion about it and to make a decision really so even if that decision is no then that’s fine.”

The Gift is located at the end of Moore St in Southbank out the front of the Donor Tissue Bank. Next time you’re in the area, feel free to wander down and observe this important public artwork.

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