The moving temporary sculpture that still stands after 25 years

A piece of art that was only supposed to last six months on London road has intrigued and baffled people for the past 25 years.

Over the last quarter of a century, the artwork has appeared on CD covers, in films, poems, theatre productions and billboards.

Known as the Ray and Julie chairs, the open-air sculpture is situated just past the Empire Theatre on an empty plot of land opposite where the old Odeon Cinema stood.

In 2009, the artwork was named in The Guardian’s top 10 unexpected and hidden sculptures in Britain.

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The two iron chairs were installed in 1995 with the artists purposely cementing them into the ground facing each other.

The artwork was the vision of married artists Alan Dunn & Brigitte Jurack.

Asked why he thought the artwork has remained in the space longer than it was ever intended, Alan said, for the most part, the chairs have flown under the radar but added: “I don’t think you can force people to like or not like something.

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The Ray + Julie chairs on London Road being installed in 1995

“Sometimes it takes 10 years for something to be liked, and sometimes it takes 20 years.”

Taking its name from a random piece of graffiti that was painted on the wall at the back of the plot, the sculpture has gone from temporary space filler to cultural conversation piece over its lifetime.

The Ray + Julie chairs 25-years on in August 2020

Alan said: “I’ve got a friend, Jeff Young, who’s an arts writer. He says the secret to the artwork is nobody knows who Ray and Julie were.

“I think without that title they are just two chairs,” adding: “The fact that we don’t know who this couple are is a nice part of it".

But Alan admits he’s still intrigued to know the identity of the people behind the original graffiti.

The original Ray + Julie graffiti that inspired the artwork

Intended to be only a temporary fixture until London Road was developed, the sculpture, co-commissioned by Furniture Resource Centre – hence the chairs – was there to commemorate whoever previously lived on the plot that was once home to Jerome Photographic Studio.

Over the years, the metal chairs themselves have remained the only constant in the space.

The artwork on the surrounding walls has been ever-changing but the chairs remain the same

The original ‘Ray + Julie’ graffiti is now gone and the walls surrounding the plot have become canvases for ever-changing artworks and murals.

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Asked about the relationship that people in the city have with the sculpture, Alan said: “Somebody once told me there’s a branch of therapy called the empty chair where you sit opposite an empty chair and act out a conversation so maybe there’s a little bit of that.

“People enjoy them without knowing the story behind them.

“A few people have said to me they go sit there on their own.

“It’s a reflective spot and a place, maybe, to remember somebody sitting opposite you.”

Do you know the identity of the people behind the original sculpture, or are you Ray or Julie? Let us know in the comments.

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