by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
To recognise the power of colours and its impact on human psychology, artist Pablo Picasso once mentioned: “Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions”. Abiding by the same dictum are the British artist Liz West’s site-specific immersive light art installations. Animating the architectural sites, the sculptures by West are an exploration of the relationship between colour, light and human responses. Giving empirical evidence of the synergetic connection of triad, West has an adequate assortment of materials to suit the spatial settings.
The first permanent installation by West, Colour Transfer, commissioned by British Land, found its home under the Paddington Central’s Westway Bridge in London. The coloured mirrors, arranged angularly, create a kaleidoscopic effect that allows the viewers to see a different colour depending upon their position. The mirrors, in sync with the architecture of the bridge, increase the scope of seeing the structure under a new light. The colour of the mirrors running from dark to light pink ensures the viewers have a heightened sense of visual perception to partake in the pleasure of a novel layer of coloured waves.
For West, her works are not limited to the sensory pleasures of viewing but have the potential to carry a strong psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual effect on the visitors. In an interview with STIR, West mentions, “You cannot see the colour without light. For me, there is an intrinsic connection between the mediums of light and colour, something that I struggle to explain because it’s just an interest that is there, so strongly rooted within me. My mental wellbeing is always affected so much by the season of the year, the quality of light and the weather. Even when I was at art school playing with various media, the choice of light just seemed natural to me. I want to highlight natural phenomena such as light and colour through my work so people become more aware”.
For another interactive installation, Our Colour Reflection, displayed at Visual Arts Centre, Scunthorpe, and St. Mark's Mayfair, West designed 765 coloured, acrylic mirrors to highlight 15 shades. The mirrors with a diameter of 30, 40, 50, or 60 centimetres are placed at various heights to create an illusionary effect on the viewers. The psychedelic arrangement of the light turns into a playground of mirror, light and varied perspectives to add a fresh breath of life to the interior spaces. The installation invites the audience to actively participate in its meaning-making exercise in an effort to achieve a change in their observation of the architectural building.
In the art milieu saturated with technology that promises to soak you with undulated permutation and combination of colours, West still prefers to go analogous with her choices of colours. She declares, “I have a huge collection of swatch books and samples which I refer to when making colour decisions. I like to be able to hold the material in my hand, tape it to the window and layer it up with other colour swatches on my desk. I find that seeing how the coloured material behaves under different lighting conditions and situations help inform the final work, this is impossible to achieve digitally. When I have chosen a colour palette or combinations digitally, I have needed constant prints making the choices - what appears on the screen often has little correspondence to the actual colour rendition. I make models and maquettes to demonstrate how the colour combines would work on a large scale”.
Experimenting with a variety of spaces, whether interiors or exteriors, West is consistently pushing the boundaries of her craft to keep the curiosity of her audience alive. The dynamic installation, Your Colour Perception, at the Castlefield Gallery’s Federation House had T8 fluorescent bulbs, cellulose gels at its 5,000 square feet of the exhibition space. West mentions, “This work utilises the darkness outside to raise the strength of the illumination and colouration in the work. Using this enormous space to install a light work in the darkest winter months allowed the colour to bleed with more saturation than if displayed any other time of the year”. The site-specific installations are developed keeping in mind the beauty of architecture is highlighted that had remained hidden earlier.
To realise an idea into a physical reality, the large-scale installations by West, besides being sensitive to the architectural settings, involve creation of collaboration among a variety of people. She explains these steps further, “I regularly get ideas after site visits because then I can imagine what will be surrounding the work. My practice centres on making installations in direct response to a site; from an initial site visit I would normally go away, research, draw and come up with a proposal which I present to the commissioner or gallery. This initial idea then goes through a rigorous detail design process to make the work a reality, which is often a collaboration with many people, including engineers, architects, fabricators, producers and curators. My absolute favourite method of working is when I am in a meeting with my fabricator and we try to think of really amazing solutions. I feel like I am working with really good and fun people”.
Undermining the unidimensional perspective of a single reality, the works by West reinforce the fact that there is always something unexplored in our environment that is waiting to be unravelled. So, when West states, “My work allows people to stop, think and feel”, it does not seem a utopian dream, but a successful physical articulation of her conceptual thoughts.