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We interviewed the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral

For an entire week, artist Liz West arranged over 700 colourful mirrors inside a cathedral to create a stunning display of indoor rainbows.

Called ‘Our Colour Reflection’, the installation filled the historic halls of the St John’s Church in Lincolnshire, UK, with spectrums of light. It even used the rays of the sun to make itself move and change shape.

According to West, the artwork allowed visitors to form their own interpretations, making them part of the creative process.

In this interview, Liz West talks more about ‘Our Colour Reflection’ and her other upcoming works.

What was the inspiration behind this installation? Please tell us more about how you came up with the concept for ‘Our Colour Reflection’.

“’Our Colour Reflection’ creates a conversation between the viewer and the setting using more than 700 mirrors made of coloured acrylic. There are 15 colours in all and the mirrors with diameters of 30, 40, 50 and 60 centimetres are set at different heights so that they both reflect the roof space of the old nave, revealing parts of the architecture that would otherwise be invisible, and project colour up into the historic interior. It is playful, elegant, engaging and probably my most thoughtful and quiet work.

“I took a lot of time to research and consider the history of the building and the weight of connotations it holds as a former place of worship. I thought about stained glass and the importance of light within the space. This has allowed me to make sure the work is grounded within its site but also holds its own voice within the grandeur and information that the space brings to the conversation.”

Did you have a particular process in arranging the glass orbs or did you place them randomly?

“I had to plan ahead and therefore formulated a plan for how to install this multi-component based work, this involved arranging the acrylic mirrored discs in a very methodical but organic way; one colour and one size disc at a time. I had no plan of where each individual mirror was going to be laid, just the idea of the work as a whole in my minds-eye.”

What was the most challenging part in creating this entire installation?

“This installation has taken months (maybe even years) of logistical planning, including: several site visits over a period of two years, researching the best place to source coloured mirrors in the widest palette, organising shipments of materials from overseas, instructions fabricators to cut the materials to exacting measurements and figuring out the best possible way to respond site-specifically to the grand architecture of the former church building whilst trying to convince people that what I had in my head was going to work.

“The week I installed the work there was an intense burst of activity as I brought all the component materials into the actual space and started to arrange the installation bit by bit. The week long install was physically very demanding and this became the biggest and most unexpected challenge for me and my assistant.

What does it seek to tell its viewers? How do the viewers maximise their experience of going through the mirror-filled church?

“There is an element of performance to this work; it puts the audience to the fore, demanding a response, physically, emotionally, psychologically or even spiritually. Viewers will each have their own perspectives and their own experiences tempered by movement through the space and through time.

“By going unplugged here, I am trying to emphasise that while artificial light can be manipulated it can only, at best, replicate the dynamism, shifting mood and changes in quality embodied in natural light.

“Since the opening of the exhibition I have overheard visitors comment on the work. One lady observed that to her it felt like the stained glass had fallen out of the windows and onto the floor, shimmering in the sunlight.

“The work changes constantly, depending on what time of day it is. As darkness comes, the gallery spotlights reflect off the coloured mirrors and send vivid dots of colour up into the interior of the former church building, illuminating the neo-gothic architecture.

“In the daytime, one visitor stood waiting for a beam of sunlight to come through the windows and hit the mirrors. They remarked that it felt like we were all was waiting for a rainbow to emerge, and when it did it was brief before disappearing just as quickly but leaving a luminous and radiant imprint in their mind. I enjoy this work at all times, I don’t have a favourite time of day.”

Lastly, what are you working on next?

“I am currently working on a number of exciting projects including a major commission for the Natural History Museum in London, a socially engaged commission in Plymouth, and solo exhibitions at Penarth Pier Pavilion and the National Trust’s Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire. There are lots more in the pipeline too.

“My newly commissioned work for the Natural History Museum’s upcoming Summer Colour and Vision exhibition will allow visitors to see themselves in a different light as they step into the exhibition and into my immersive artwork. ‘Our Spectral Vision’ is inspired by Isaac Newton’s seven-fold colour spectrum; rays of light from every colour of the rainbow will beam through seven prisms made from special colour filter glass, creating an atmospheric illusion that will stimulate visitors visual perception of colour.”

You can find out more about Liz West and her work here.

A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral
A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral
A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral
A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral
A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral
A chat with the artist who made indoor rainbows inside a cathedral