Feeling stressed? The answer could be right before your eyes

Can simply looking at a piece of art leave us feeling more relaxed? We toured the public art of Canary Wharf to test the theory.

Researchers at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, have found evidence that viewing art is an effective remedy for stress. Their research showed that when people are presented with visually stimulating pieces, their blood pressure decreased and they report feeling relaxed. “Viewing artworks is a form of visual environment enrichment,” says Mikaela Law, one of the health psychology researchers behind the study. “It is theorised to be stress-reducing through positive distraction.”

Can gazing at a piece of art really be enough to calm us down? As one of the most prosperous areas in east London, Canary Wharf Group grounds its urban vision in a mixture of modern architecture and art. Its public art displays aim to inspire people through art as they walk through the local streets.  What better place to test the theory? 

So slow down, take a deep breath, and open your eyes as our stressed our Eastlondonlines’ reporter takes you on a stress-busting local art tour. 

Spirit of Life, by Helaine Blumenfeld 

Spirit of Life, Westferry Circus. Pic: Canary Wharf Group

At first sight, the openness of the sculpture, which inclines upwards, gives an impression of a sturdy tree, full of strength and vivacity. Within seconds of looking at this piece by the American artist Helaine Blumenfeld, I feel energised by the power it holds – it evokes beauty, hope, and creation.

The daily stresses are eased as I allow my mind to drift through the natural green space. In this meditative state I feel free to contemplate the renewal of human life. The top of the sculpture opens in a warm and inviting way encouraging me to let go of stress: why hold on to it when you can draw happiness and strength from your own life?  

Stressbuster rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️  

Illusion, by Helaine Blumenfeld 

Illusion is placed in Cabot Square. Pic: Canary Wharf Group

Viewing this next piece, also by Blumenfeld, I was swept up in the bold-looking design with its twists and turns; it captivated my curiosity. Though eccentric and ultimately incomprehensible, it seemed to reveal the true landscape of human society, with all its uncertainty and turmoil . There is something intriguing about the piece; it aligns with Blumenfeld’s philosophy to fuse figurative work with abstraction.  

For Blumenfeld, “creating a ‘work of art’ is a continuous struggle between chaos and order”. Though I didn’t find this piece particularly stress busting, its distinguished presence did prompt me to see the world with different eyes.  

Stressbuster rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Unity of Opposites: Vortex, by Michael Lyons 

Unity of Opposites is placed in Crossrail Place Roof Garden. Pic: Canary Wharf Group

My initial reaction to this piece was that it evokes the behaviour of a proud, pompous being. The longer I stare at the sculpture, the more overwhelmed I feel, as if it would have pierced my vision. Where Blumenfeld’s Illusion seemed to be created to draw people in, and to encourage them to explore the subtle changes of the artwork, Michael Lyon’s Unity of Opposites felt like an aggressive form of expression. Its position, encircled by Canary Wharf’s high rise buildings, gives it an almost impudent feel. While I instantly feel the pressure of standing before this overwhelming sculpture, its sharp edges seem to encapsulate the strains of modern society; where abstract representation meets the material solidity of the human world, tensions arise. To me, the piece depicts the flow of human desire and the conflict between materialistic obsession and spirituality.

All of a sudden, the stresses I’m dealing with on a daily basis don’t seem to matter any more. We stress a lot due to materialistic needs, but sometimes we forget why we live. Looking into the twisted construct Unity of Opposites, I am reminded that a free human spirit transcends all doubts and stresses of life.  

Stressbuster rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Tear – Richard Hudson 

Tear is placed in Bank Street, Jubilee Park. Pic: Canary Wharf Group 

British sculptor Richard Hudson captures different forms of beauty in this piece. As an artist who is sensitive to change and movement, Hudson’s the flux and shape of his pieces invite the viewer to connect with the art, and dive in the depths of their thoughts and emotions. Hudson explains: “What I attempt to capture, to enclose, as a kind of homage, is a form around which on every surface it is possible to trace a continuous line.”

Tear imitates the shape of an ordinary teardrop, symbolising the cohesion and strength within our tears. Is it inspiring to see how a teardrop can resonate with all aspects of life. gazing at it, seeing myself reflected in its surface, I felt healed by the simple, yet profound ideas that Tear brings through artistic expression.

Stressbuster rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Main Image by Canary Wharf Group

If you find viewing art is a remedy for stress, we’d love to hear from you: what piece of local art do you gaze at when you need to calm your nerves?  Contact us at @eastlondonlines on Twitter.

Click here to see the rest of ELL’s articles for this Stress Awareness Month.

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