by Vatsala SethiOct 04, 2022
The UK-based visual artist Liz West, known for site-specific sculptural artworks, has developed a new installation called Slow Revolution at Greengate, Salford, in the United Kingdom. The permanent installation commissioned by Salford City Council is aimed to transform the architectural spaces and public environment of Salford. The in-situ installation consists of individual prismatic triangles covered in luminescent reflective colours and stacked to form geometric columns spread across the building. The eight towering beacons of 56 triangular prisms, each set apart at a five degree angle, are in a playful engagement with the viewers - the public installation twists and rotates as the viewers walk in front of the installation. The colour and scale of the installation work towards creating an optically vibrant and kaleidoscopic appearance.
At the time of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the cotton mills of Manchester and the dye works of Salford were held as a key part of the region's manufacturing landscape. The monumental work, constructed from steel and aluminium and clothed in the swathe of retro-reflecting colour, is dedicated to the heritage of the area. To mention, the installation is a continuation of West’s research interest in the colour theory and light fields. The tens of thousands of tiny glass beads make the retro-reflective materials only to reflect light and send a focused image directly back to the original light source. When the direct light source is projected onto the surface of the artwork both in the daytime and in the dark, the Slow Revolution self-illuminates.
Taking to STIR about the development of the immersive installation at Salford, West mentions, “I was given a brief that stipulated that the artwork should be inspired by the site’s current cultural positioning, context, and location, along with a rich source of industrial, social and cultural history.” The Greengate area had a rail station common to both Salford and Manchester; it was the first gas-lit street in the United Kingdom and had strong music, arts and performance communities. She adds, “My initial ideas for the work came from digesting all of this information and material. It seemed obvious to me to pay homage to and make literal and visual the Greengate 'Triangle', the musicality of the area and the history of the colour dyeing which took place in Salford through the use of vibrant colours.”
Given the long social and geographic history of the place, it could be a daunting task to assimilate the richness of the past and articulate it through site-specific artwork. West admits, “In my research, I really enjoyed the geographical triangle (the Greengate Triangle) element that has presented itself in my new work as a formal component.” West is known for creating vibrant large-scale works that stand in contrast with the built environment of the cities often laden with dull grey and brown worlds. The lack of vivid colour as part of the urban design – be it building made of glass, concrete, steel and stone or street furniture – urges the artist to look for animated colours in her work.
West explains, “Within this new artwork, I was very keen to implement a burst of vibrant colour to brighten and pop against the monochrome backdrop. I used a bold and memorable selection of colours, which were available to me through my choice of material; glass bead reflective film. The palette is reminiscent of road signage as this is the material’s main purpose, therefore creating a colour synergy between my artwork and the urban realm we are familiar with.”
With the luminous colour and radiant light, West activates the sensory experience in the viewers. For the artist, creation of such an environment nudges the psychological and physical responses to see the unseen. In a similar vein, the installation is an attempt to add light and colour to the area in order to feel safer for pedestrians passing through. The installation with the use of the retro-reflective film creates a 'light-work' without the need for artificial lights, as the colours jump and come to life when a light is shone onto this street-sign material.
West states, “I would like visitors and passers-by to feel safer and more joyful through their encounter with the sculpture, as well as being intrigued by the juxtaposition between its boldness and nuanced details such as the slight rotation. Through this work (and all of my works) I would like to encourage the act of seeing, by making a piece of artwork that makes us look skyward and inspect the spaces we inhabit more closely.”
West with Slow Revolution not just reimagines the history of Salford, but once again ascertained the crucial role of public art in the built environment.