Live Steam Shift Whistle

Live Steam Shift Whistle, Oscar Tuazon, 2014. Photo Justin Yockney. Courtesy of the artist and Arnolfini.


American artist Oscar Tuazon was commissioned to develop a new temporary public artwork for Bristol Downs as part of Arnolfini’s exhibition ‘The Promise’, (July 19 – 4th November, 2014). The artwork entitled ‘Live Steam Shift Whistle’ was created with the support of healthcare provider Simplyhealth as part of a two year commissions programme, entitled the ‘Art and the Public Realm Commission Award’ to mark the construction of their new Bristol HQ.


‘Live Steam Shift Whistle’ comprised a 20 foot steel and concrete structure and fire pit which doubled as a community barbeque. Taking inspiration from the tradition of architectural follies in landscape parks the work was located on The Downs, one of the oldest public parks in Bristol and a site that has been used over the centuries for many different purposes. The sculpture was a focal point for activity throughout the summer, echoing the historic role of fires in bringing communities together and nourishment. In developing the work Tuazon was drawn to the various natural and built of the Downs, in particular, the stone clad ventilation shaft that served the mile-long Clifton Down railway tunnel which previously ran deep below the Downs, and which the sculpture seeks to mirrors.

On the opening day, the public were invited to an official firing up event, where the structure’s water tank was filled and a fire stoked within the fire pit to generate steam and to light the fire pit. As part of the event, the public were encourage to bring a picnic and their food to be cooked on the sculpture grill. Tuazon’s artwork was used for a number of barbeque events through the summer and autumn which were led by invited guest Bristol restaurants including Rice and Things, The Ox and The Cowshed, and Arnolfini’s own Café / Bar who each cooked and sold a specially prepared menu.

Tuazon's striking, monolithic sculpture playfully questions the relationship between Bristol's residents and one of its most iconic public green spaces. The sculpture, which took its inspiration from the tradition of architectural follies in landscape parks, became a monument to the public’s use of the site and a shared cultural history. The dual function of the artwork harked back to an ancient tradition of communal sharing, eating and shelter by firelight.

Oscar Tuazon

Oscar Tuazon was born in 1975, in Tacoma, Washington. He lives and works in Paris, where he co-founded the collective-run artists’ gallery castillo/corrales.

Tuazon creates sculptures that are not just for viewing, but can be inhabited or utilised. Inspired by what he calls "outlaw architecture", Tuazon's work is flavoured by the crude, DIY structures of American survivalists who decide to go off-grid. Comprised of a combination of natural and industrial materials Tuazon’s work references minimalist sensibilities, extreme do-it-yourself aesthetics and vernacular architecture. His works maintain an improvised, precarious quality that draws upon his long-standing interest in how the built environment is redefined and redesigned by the act of inhabitation.

Recent solo shows include MANUAL LABOR, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich (2012); DIE, The Power Station, Dallas (2011); STEEL, PRESSURE-TREATED WOOD, OAK POST, OFFICE CHAIR, INDUCTION STOVETOP, ALUMINUM, Standard (Oslo), Oslo (2011); AMERICA IS MY WOMAN, Maccarone, New York, USA (2011); MY MISTAKE, ICA – Institute of Contemporary Art, London (2010); Oscar Tuazon, Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland (2010). Selected group exhibitions include Whitney Biennial 2012, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2012); THE LANGUAGE OF LESS, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2011); ILLUMINATIONS (curated by Bice Curiger), 54th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2011). In 2012, Tuazon produced three site-responsive sculptures for the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, commissioned by the Public Art Fund New York, which became part of the functional, everyday furniture of the park.

The Promise

The Promise is about the relationship between a city and its residents. If we understand the city as more than a place, and more than a shared infrastructure, how do a city’s inhabitants live together? How does the city’s design – its architecture, urban planning and landscape, impact on the lives of residents?

“A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.” (E.B. White, Here is New York, 1949)

The Promise looks at the role of design and art in the city – how future cities might function, and how we see and create a story for a city. The project focuses on significant points in the history and changing agendas of social planning, such as post war construction, the redevelopment of the harbourside and more recently, the increasing importance of green issues as Bristol takes on the title of European Green Capital in 2015.

Besides the exhibition in the galleries at Arnolfini, the project engages with the city directly. International artists have been invited to develop new works for significant places in Bristol. A series of events and an engagement programme for all ages accompanies the project, taking place both at Arnolfini and across Bristol.

The exhibition includes works by Marcel Breuer, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Conway and Young, Luke Fowler, Isa Genzken, Judith Hopf, John Miller, Charlotte Moth, muf: architecture/art, Studio Manuel Raeder, Josef Strau, Sophie Warren and Jonathan Mosley, Stephen Willats, and a Mapping Project: Doing Things Separately Together. Offsite commissions include works by Jeremiah Day, Assemble, Gabriel Lester, Kate Newby, Oscar Tuazon, and Lost Property. The exhibition is accompanied by a new text by Jennifer Kabat.


Arnolfini is one of Europe’s leading independent, contemporary arts organizations, and is the flagship art centre for the South West of England with 450,000 visitors annually. 2011 is the year of Arnolfini’s 50th anniversary. Since its foundation in 1961, Arnolfini has built an international reputation for commissioning and presenting innovative, experimental work in the visual arts, always with a strong emphasis upon audience engagement. Many thousands of artists and performers have been involved with Arnolfini during this time, often gaining their first opportunity before going on to long-term success, and this wealth of creativity has been appreciated and enjoyed by consistently large audiences. Much of this ground-breaking work would not have been made or shown in Bristol and the South West region without the Arnolfini. Previous major solo exhibitions at Arnolfini have included: Marcel Broodthaers, Bridget Riley, Richard Long and Liam Gillick, as well as more recently Cosima von Bonin in 2011.


Simplyhealth have been helping people access affordable healthcare for over 140 years. They offer a range of health cash plans, dental plans, private medical insurance and self-funded health plans to help individuals, families and businesses. Committed to providing excellent personal customer service, for the last three years they have won the Customer Commitment Award at the UK Customer Satisfaction Awards, organised by the Institute of Customer Service. For more information please visit

Art in the Public Realm Commission Award

The project was produced with the kind support by Simplyhealth – Art in the Public Realm Commission Award and two year programme of public art commissions funded by Simplyhealth as part of the development of their new Bristol HQ. The project was produced by Arnolfini Gallery Ltd in association with EMP Projects, and Bristol City Council.

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  • Commissioner


  • Produced by

    Arnolfini, with EMP Projects

  • Partners

    Simplyhealth, EMP Projects, Stoford, Ferguson Mann Architects, Bristol Downs

  • Supported by