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it is if - is it if - if it is

The sculpture

The word sculpture, ‘The Eternal Question’, situated in the western part of Light Square, is the 1981-82 creation of Adelaide-born artist Richard Tipping (1949–). It is composed of six carved blocks of black granite from Black Hill, South Australia standing in a circle around a central block resting flat on the ground. Each of the standing blocks has a word carved into its internal facing and external facing sides, saying IS or IT or IF. The central block has a spiral question mark carved into it, with the dot representing the sun. The artist explained, ‘The three words stand for the essentials: IT – matter, IS – being, IF – mind. The eternal question is of course why are we here at all’ (Adelaide City Council, Official City Guide).

The sculpture was made for the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1982 and installed on the banks of the River Torrens. After the festival, the sculpture was set to become part of the breakwater being built at Robe in the South-East of South Australia, but was saved in 1983 by Ron Radford, the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Radford selected the work as part of an exhibition of contemporary sculpture. In 1994 Barbara and William Stewart gifted the sculpture to the Art Gallery through The Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation. In 2003 The Eternal Question was relocated to Light Square and has been on loan to the Adelaide City Council since 2005.

The artist

Multimedia artist Richard Kelly Tipping was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1949. He studied film, philosophy and literature at the Flinders University of South Australia before working as poet and word artist. Through the 1970s Tipping became known for his thought provoking and humorous re-wording of public signage. He published his first poetry anthology in 1977.

Tipping went on to explore language and ideas in a range of mediums from large road signs, to photographs, neon sculptures and public installations such as The Eternal Question. While Tipping is best known as a sculptor and word artist, he is also highly regarded as a photographer and documentary film maker.

Richard Tipping has held more than 20 solo exhibitions in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Washington and several German cities. He has completed public and private commissions throughout Australia and in Munich and London. His photographs, prints and sculptures are in many public collections in Australia, including all state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. His work is also held in overseas collections, including the Getty Centre for the History of Art and the Humanities of Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tipping completed a masters degree and a doctorate at the Sydney University of Technology. For two decades he lectured in communication and media arts at the University of Newcastle.

By Jude Elton, History Trust of South Australia

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The Eternal Question by Richard Kelly Tipping 1982, Light Square
The Eternal Question by Richard Kelly Tipping 1982, Light Square
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