2021 will see West’s work, Presence, in Christ Church, where, through the combination of light and colour, West will transform the space to create a sensory experience for the viewer.
The work will take the form of a tunnel, created from several hundred acrylic panels, each coated with an applied layer of coloured film. The tunnel, which will be running the length of the central aisle, will be open at one end to allow visitors to walk within it and become immersed in a space within a space.
West is best known for creating vivid environments that mix luminous colour and radiant light. Working across a variety of mediums, West aims to provoke a heightened sensory awareness in the viewer through her works. West’s investigation into the relationship between colour and light is often realised through the engagement between materiality and a given site.
You often talk about wanting to create immersive experiences with your works. What effect do you hope your work, Presence at Christ Church, will have on people?
I find a lot of artwork to be quite inaccessible – perhaps you need to read an information panel about the work to gain an understanding of it, or you need to be in other ways ‘prepared’ to find a ‘way in’. I want my artwork to be understood on multiple levels and
I’d like audiences to have an instant reaction. Of course, I’d like access points to be on many different levels – which then may include reading a text panel or gaining an intellectual perspective – but at its core, I wanted to go back to the senses.
I have always been a very sensory person, even as a child. I am always highly aware of my surroundings and of what was happening around me, so as an artist I aim to put other people within my realm.
With Presence, I want to do more than just trigger the mind. I want to trigger the body, the soul, the spirit – and maybe even challenge people’s perceptions of their emotional wellbeing and their physicality in the space. As we live in this incredibly fast-paced society, we rarely think about what it feels like to be in the present moment, right here and right now, so I wanted to slow people down and take them out of their everyday and into the otherworldly. At no point am I trying to prescribe how people should feel in the work, but I am trying to provide a meditative experience for them.
What was your thought process behind turning Christ Church into an immersive experience?
I remember going into any church as a child, with its grand doors opening and the spectacle of the aisle and realising that you are instantly performing – you become part of a procession within that space.
What I want my work to do is to put people in the role of the performer. On a more physical level, I was thinking a lot about the journey to the altar and the stained glass window beyond. Whether you are just wandering around the space or taking part in the service, your eyes are always being drawn to the altar and stained glass, which is the focal point of the building.
In making the work I thought about how I could direct and funnel people towards that, so it became obvious that I had to use the aisle itself as my site.
I became interested in making a space within a space, and in not letting people access the rest of the church – really diverting and controlling the flow of the people – so I realised I had to put a screen at the end of the aisle. A full stop, which makes people stop and look. As people are being directed towards the main stained glass window, they are seeing layers of colour upon each other.
How did you come to the decision on which colours to use?
Having a different colour on each side of the aisle was a really important decision. I did not want to have a patchwork of colours on each side. I wanted to really illuminate one side of the space, the side on which the sun sets, with cool iridescent colours, and the other half of the space, on which the sun rises, with warm iridescent colours.
Therefore, I am echoing and paying homage to the colours apparent at dusk and dawn. Iridescence is often found in nature – particularly in birds and insects. Nature is said to come from somewhere higher than us – so becomes a full circle in the context of a church.
You’ve created works for New York, Dubai, Paris, Milan – to name a few. How is it different to create work for a smaller community, like Macclesfield?
Just because an artwork is being made in a town, doesn’t give it any less importance than if it was made for London or New York. It is still my work, my reputation – It still has to hold weight. What does separate it, is the context of the work – historically socially or geographically. Context is crucial – it is what grounds it and what makes the work feel like it belongs in that space.
Do you have any public commissions in the works? Where can people go and see your next work?
My most recent work is a temporary but absolutely monumental piece on the Greenwich Peninsula, called Hundreds and Thousands, which will stay up until the end of the summer. A similar work has recently launched in Liverpool’s new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, permanently wrapping around the atrium walls.
In June I will be unveiling a brand-new piece of work as part of the Canary Wharf Summer Lights Festival, which runs until mid-August. There are quite a few projects internationally which I can’t talk about just yet.
Excitingly, I have been working on a permanent commission for the past two years, located in Salford, just across the River Irwell from Manchester Cathedral – which will become the North West’s largest public artwork. The work is called Slow Revolution and takes the industrial heritage of the site as its concept; it will launch mid-Summer.
I’ve also been commissioned by Quays Culture to make a permanent piece for MediaCityUK, which will launch in mid-August, it will be a continuation of my Through series.
Importantly I’m also making a permanent piece for a young people’s cancer ward in one of London’s hospitals, and am developing some smaller gallery-based works as well.