There is now a monumental sculpture, Vigil – The Heart of Cabrini by Simon Perry, out the front of Cabrini Hospital in Malvern. A sculpture of this size is not all the work of the sculptor. It starts with the decision to have one, then a commissioning process to find the sculptor. Then the location and design must be finalised before the sculpture is fabricated, installed and officially unveiled. A project that can take years.
This sculpture started in late 2016 with a committee to organise commemorations for the centenary of the death of St Frances Cabrini. After the committee agreed on having a sculpture as part of the commemorations and sculpture sub-committee was formed to write an artist brief and then find a sculptor. I have some minor responsibility here because, in a brief email reply to a member of the sculpture sub-committee, I mentioned Simon Perry amongst a few other local sculptors. Full disclosure, for this little effort, I was treated to a coffee and given the inside story.
If Simon Perry’s name isn’t familiar in Melbourne, his Public Purse in the Bourke Street mall certainly is. As well as creating sculptures, Perry teaches at RMIT.
Wisely, the sculpture sub-committee talked to more people and more sculptors than just the three I mentioned. They met with eight sculptors at their studios and received six expressions of interest. By February 2017, the sculpture sub-committee had made a shortlist of three artists to commission to do a concept design. After receiving these concept designs in April, Perry was considered to be the “preferred artist”. However, he wasn’t formally commissioned until late in 2018 as approval had come from the Centenary committee, the hospital’s Major Projects Committee and the local Stonnington Council.
I didn’t think that Perry would be chosen because I thought they probably wanted a statue. It turns out that some of the committee did want a statue, but Perry’s proposal won them over. It examined the symbolism in the commission brief, found visual connections and gave them a physical form. The heartbeat pattern of a cardiogram provides it with an overall shape. A shape that could also refer to the habits of nuns who established the hospital. These dark curved shapes (stainless steel clad with bronze) are pierced with holes that light up at night, like stars. The peaks of the cardiogram have gold (polished bronze sheets) hearts on top that slowly rotate in a stiff breeze.
Perry’s concept design then had to be finalised. Then the sculpture was fabricated by Derek John of DJProjects with lighting by Luke Adams, one of Perry’s many former students. So that, after five years since the sculpture was conceived, it was finally installed and officially unveiled in November 2021.
The turning hearts on the tops of the sculpture’s 7.4m spires can be seen from Wattletree Road making it an aid to navigation. Located to one side of the main entrance and surrounded by a small garden with plenty of seating, Vigil is on hospital land but directly abutting and accessible from public land.
I’ve spent too much time for a healthy person visiting hospitals in recent years, so I’m aware of the need for an aesthetically appealing place to sit just outside a hospital. Or to look at from one of the windows to ease your troubled thoughts. So I hope that Perry’s Vigil does that for Cabrini Hospital.