It was during the Industrial Revolution that Salford became a major player in the region's manufacturing landscape with its dye works sitting alongside Manchester's cotton mills across the River Irwell. Now artist Liz West is paying tribute to them with a new installation of prismatic triangles in a rainbow of colours.
Slow Revolution has been designed specifically for Greengate in Salford and comprises 56 triangular prisms, each set apart at a five degree angle, and making up eight towering beacons that appear to playfully twist and rotate. With luminescent reflective hues, the geometric columns span across the front of the building to add some punch to one of Salford's latest developments.
The work is constructed from steel and aluminium and clothed in swathe of retro-reflecting colour. "Retro-reflective material is an unplugged phenomenon made with tens of thousands of tiny glass beads that reflect light and send a focused image directly back to the original light source," explains Liz. "The sculpture self-illuminates when a direct light source is projected onto the surface of the artwork both in the daytime and in the dark, acting as a multicoloured signpost and vibrant gateway into Salford."
During the development of the work, Liz admits there was so much information on the social and geographic history of the site to digest and relay into an articulate and site-specific artwork. "I loved that Salford was the hub of the dye works, in essence the colour factory of the North, across the River Irwell from the weaving mills in Manchester," she says. "It was the two cities working together wonderfully at the height of the Industrial Revolution. In my research, I also really enjoyed the geographical triangle – the Greengate Triangle – element that has presented itself in my new work as a formal component."
The brief 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. This included the former use as a market place, a rail station that used to serve both Salford and Manchester, the first gas-lit street in the United Kingdom and the strong music, arts and performance communities. Liz adds: "In a wider context, Salford is currently being rejuvenated with public art being an important contribution to this development. This commission brief suggested that the artwork becomes part of Salford's growing cultural ecology for people to enjoy for years to come."
Colour is, of course, central to Liz West's work, and for good reason. "Our cities are often dull grey and brown worlds with a lack of vivid colour as part of the urban design – glass, concrete, steel and stone form the most part of buildings and street furniture," she continues. "I was very keen to implement a burst of vibrant colour to brighten and pop against the monochrome backdrop. I also wanted to make a work that added light to the area in order for it to feel safer for pedestrians passing through. Using 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."
Slow Revolution follows Liz West's recent Hundreds and Thousands installation in a former church in Macclesfield and her dazzling commission, Colour Transfer, at Paddington Central's Westway Bridge. Discover more about the artist and her work at www.liz-west.com.