Diana Bell is an experienced commissioned artist.  Here she talks to us about commissions in the public realm.

Diana Bell specialises in creating work for public spaces. Context is crucial to her work, and her pieces are situated outside of the gallery, rooted in the world. She is fascinated by what it means to be human, and the relationship between humans and their environment. Public commissions enable Diana to explore the human condition whilst inviting the public to participate in the making of her work. 


Public Commissions that involve the Community

Diana’s favourite commissions are those that involve collaboration with the public. 

Diana Bell, Together

Her figurative sculpture ‘Together’ was commissioned in 2007 by Lidl Supermarket and reflects the community of Blackbird Leys. Through working with primary schools, youth groups and an art group, she created a sculpture to depict a supportive community that depends on each other.

Diana Bell, Together

Breaking out of the gallery space 

‘Context is everything’ 

Diana’s public participation pieces depend on particular contexts that root her artwork in the world. Her work encourages people to respond. By moving her work out of a gallery space into the outer world, it must adapt to new challenges, fit into the world around it but also compete with everything in a public space.  

One of Diana’s favourite commissions was ‘The Big Book’. In 2010 Dianna created a 2.2 metre book where the public were invited to step from reality into the book and release their imagination in words. The book began its journey from the Bodlean library in Oxford, and has since travelled to thirteen venues, including Liverpool, Birmingham, Bath and Berlin. In Berlin it was situated in a square next to where the Nazis burnt books during the Holocaust, evoking a powerful significance between the artwork and its location.


Diana Bell, The Big Book

Opening up conversations 

‘You can have a philosophical conversation with almost anyone on the street which is so exciting’

Diana worked on ‘The Big Book’ unexpectedly for five years, collecting approximately 5,900 contributions in 63 different languages. She continues to collect stories from the public in ‘The Big Question Mark’, a project that invites participants to go on a symbolic journey whilst answering questions about their origins. The audience has an integral part in the creative process, enabling them to be both participants and creators.

Commissions that begin with an idea 

‘Where do ideas come from? I don’t know where they come from. They just come, I suppose’

The process of commissioning is an evolving one, which can take interesting turns of direction. Diana views commissions as an exciting journey that can lead to a wealth of possibilities. Whether an idea originates with the artist, or a community, company or an individual, it involves working together in a dynamic process of collaboration. 


By Sophia Siddiqui