16ft sculptures encourage us to talk about mental health

16 September 2019
Two monumental interactive sculptures titled 'Talk to Me' tower over visitors to Kings Cross in a bid to further the conversation about the capital’s mental health.
“Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick, part of designjunction 2019, in support of Time to Change. Image: Daniel Shearing

“Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick, part of designjunction 2019, in support of Time to Change. Image: Daniel Shearing


Dan Harvey portrait

Dan Harvey

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Ramboll. Alan Dowdall.

Alan Dowdall

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Martin Burden. Ramboll

Martin Burden

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Brogan MacDonald

Brogan MacDonald

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Will Harrison

Will Harrison

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Multi-award-winning British designer Steuart Padwick has once again teamed up with Ramboll and Time to Change to create the sculptures, titled ‘Talk to Me’. The sculptures are situated along King’s Boulevard in Kings Cross, London, until 22 September as part of this year’s designjunction; part of The London Design Festival 2019.

'Talk to Me' is an inspiring piece, reminding us that through communication with one another the weight so many of us carry, can be lessened. As passers-by approach the interactive giant cuboid wooden figures, a proximity sensor is triggered, and they begin to voice poignant and uplifting words. These conversations start to crack the ‘burden’ to release a glowing light.

The words for these five and a half-metre-tall sculptures have been written by notable poets, writers, actors and mental health ambassadors including, Rachel Joyce, Barney Norris, Olly Todd, Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Kirsten Irving, Anna Mackmin and Errol McGlashan (Uncle Errol).

Padwick has designed this pair of gender, race and age neutral sculptures in two contrasting poses. The series progresses from the standing figure carrying the burden on their shoulders to resting against it, highlighting that whilst the burden may not be overtly visible it is often not far away. 

Constructed in Douglas Fir to convey a warmth and humanity, the figures are in stark contrast to the strict cuboid shapes and “concrete” blocks made from natural acrylic stone.

Steuart Padwick said: “Many of us carry issues and burdens that hold us down and hold us back. For some, these are crippling, and for some they even lead to taking their own lives. These burdens can start so young and appear insurmountable, unresolvable. But often, communication is the key to unlocking the journey forward.

“Even when the burden is not overtly holding them down it is rarely far away. That is why one piece has the burden clearly on the shoulders, and with the other sitting piece, the burden is to one side – perhaps forgotten for a moment but always near.”

Following Padwick’s ‘Head Above Water’ sculpture for designjunction 2018, members of the project team were reunited for this year’s installation. Providing their expertise pro-bono, Ramboll addressed the many structural design challenges and Hoare Lea designed the sound and lighting.

Steuart commented on the reunion “Once again Ramboll has come to the rescue with their expertise, professionalism and relaxed, reassuring approach.” Alan Dowdall, Ramboll Associate, reciprocated  “Ramboll is delighted to be collaborating with Steuart on another inspiring and thought-provoking piece. As a pledged ‘Time to Change’ employer, the message on communication and mental health resonates with us and our commitments to change our industry’s attitude and behaviours for the better.”

Watch the build of “Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick below. Film by Jake Pitcher.

Bringing the figures to life

Ramboll’s technical ability and experience in timber design rapidly drove the design forward to ensure these 3 tonne sculptures could be delivered and erected within an hour, whilst minimising any disruption to the area.  Having worked on more than 15 sites within the Kings Cross regeneration development, Ramboll’s knowledge of the site and industry connections helped Padwick deliver the project within the tight 12-week programme. 

Drawing on Ramboll’s knowledge and experience of sculptural installations at Tate Modern, specifically Olafur Eliasson’s 36ft-high waterfall and Franz West’s sculptures, the structural solution included base plate design to ensure the figures are safely secured in place and able to withstand both the natural elements and human interaction. Longevity of the sculptures and adaptability were also considered in the design of the plates which can be modified or removed to suit future installation locations.

Find out more about the design and how these impressive sculptures were brought to life here.

Time to Change

Jo Loughran, Director, Time to Change, said: “We know that being open about mental health, and being ready to talk and to listen, can change lives. We’re thrilled to be supporting ‘Talk to Me’, which will act as an unmissable reminder of the power of hearing and being heard. You don’t have to be an expert to talk – just being human, empathetic and caring is enough.”

Time to Change is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and thousands of organisations like us are joining to help make change happen. Read more about the campaign

Head Above Water

For last year’s designjunction, Padwick created ‘Head Above Water’. The ‘head’ was deliberately neutral in gender, ethnicity and age to show that mental health is a topic that touches everyone. It symbolised hope, bravery and positivity for those who’ve fought and won a mental health battle, as well as those who are still fighting. 

Viewers engaged with the sculpture through a designated Twitter feed; their comments caused its lights to change colours, reflecting how participants felt in real time. Find out more here.

Related Projects

“Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick, part of designjunction 2019, in support of Time to Change. Image: Daniel Shearing

Talk to Me

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