Artwork Details


Sitting on History I

Bill Woodrow
W / H / D:
200 / 150 / 100
Subject Matter:
Monuments And Memorials
Creation Date:

Credit: Gift of Dato' Kho Hui Meng 2013, Collection of SMU

Bill Woodrow (b. 1948, United Kingdom) emerged as a pivotal figure in a new generation of British sculptors in the early 1980s, who centred on the use of found objects and/or simple manufacturing procedures. Often using discarded or waste objects and ephemera, such as old washing machines, car parts, cutlery, and scrap metal, Woodrow then cut apart and reassembled these into inventive sculptures with often elusive meanings, placing the onus of interpretation on the viewer.

In the late 1980s, Woodrow began to transition from the direct manipulation of found objects to casting works in bronze. An exceptional example of his works in bronze was the monumental sculpture 'Regardless of History' made for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London in 2000. He has received several honorary distinctions during his career including; in the early 1980s representing Britain at Biennales in Sydney (1982), Paris (1982, 1985), and Sâo Paulo (1983); in 1986 he was a finalist in the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery, London; in 1988 he won the Anne Gerber Award at the Seattle Museum of Art; he was a trustee of the Tate Galleries 1996-2001; in 2002 he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts.

'Sitting on History' was proposed in response to a commission first discussed in 1990 and to Woodrow's Tate Gallery exhibition in 1996, which was an opportunity to realise a sculpture that could function as a seat.

Woodrow had made three maquettes based on a book form: one with coins as the seatbacks, another featuring two crows on the spine of the book fighting over a gold coin, and this version entitled 'Sitting on History'. Woodrow's idea was to have a sculpture that was only completed conceptually and formally when a person sat on it. In 'Sitting on History', the viewer takes a seat on the very pages of the book.

'Sitting on History', with its ball and chain, refers to the book as a receptacle of knowledge on which history is written, disseminated and studied. History is filtered through millions of pages of writing, making the book the major vehicle for research and study. But one might wonder what critique is implied by its restraint with a ball and chain? Woodrow proposes that although one absorbs knowledge through books, its impact is questionable.

The real books from which the original maquettes were made came from a box of discarded books given to Woodrow by a London bookseller as they were no longer saleable. To Woodrow's wry amusement, in this haul were three volumes on the history of the Labour Party which he chose to use for the maquettes. Woodrow finds books one of the most powerful democratic tools in the world and still the most advanced form of communication.

'Sitting on History' is an edition of 10, and one of the editions is at the British Library, London.

Gift of Dato' Kho Hui Meng : University Collection
Currently Located at:
Campus Green