Brookfield Properties develops and operates real estate investments on behalf of Brookfield Asset Management — one of the largest alternative asset managers in the world. Arts Brookfield is the company’s cultural initiative, which supports innovation in music, dance, theatre, film, and visual art through free art exhibitions and cultural experiences across their properties, creating vibrant and valued environments for the people who work and live there every day.
Brookfield Properties was looking to install a new piece of public art in the central plaza of its new, mixed-use development in New York City, Manhattan West. The work would then be reprogrammed for a second location, a waterfront plaza located at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan.
Hymn to the Big Wheel by UK artist Liz West was chosen to meet Brookfield Properties’ goals. The immersive sculptural work explores the illusion and physicality of color and natural light in space. Consisting of a multi-colored octagon nestled within a larger octagonal shape, this work encourages the viewer to reposition and align themselves to differing colorways to see a changing scope of colors mixing before their eyes.
MASSIVart is proud to have contributed to the temporary transformation of these two places, creating distinctive moments and engaging with the communities of two New York properties. The unifying cultural program will result in stronger and more authentic connections with the destinations’ audiences.
Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Liz West and I’m an artist based in the UK and I make work using both color and light to make immersive installation works.
What inspired you to create Hymn to the Big Wheel when it was originally commissioned by Canary Wharf Group in London for Summer Lights in 2021?
Hymn to the Big Wheel originally was inspired by the sun and my want to make work that didn’t just use artificial lights, but also used natural light because it’s a free source. Let’s utilize it!
Canary Wharf is based in London, which is very near the Greenwich Meridian Line. I thought how perfect it would be to make a sundial in Greenwich. The piece was inspired by the movement of the sun and wanting to document that, but also allowing visitors to explore that and be inside of it.
The title of the piece is interesting because Hymn to the Big Wheel sounds like it’s a fairground piece, right? It’s not at all a fairground piece and it’s nothing to do with big wheels. The inspiration for the piece also came from music. And I’m really interested in pop music and music in general. And as a music aficionado, I listen to a lot of music while I’m creating and drawing. When I was making the original sketches for this work, I was listening to Massive Attack and one of their famous tracks, Hymn of the Big Wheel. That song talked a lot about how the earth spins on its access day by day and how we all, as individuals, experience the world. I thought that’s just so perfect because the Earth’s being on its axis helps the sun move. The piece is all about how we individually perceive color and space and the world around us. It all just tied together really nicely. So it has nothing to do with fairgrounds and everything to do with being inside a music video.
What interests you about working with color and light?
What interests me about working with color and light is its power to change how we feel about spaces and places. Color has this amazing capacity of being universal. Doesn’t matter your background, your age, your race, your gender, you understand color. And that doesn’t matter whether you’re colorblind or if you have synesthesia we all understand color differently but we all understand it. And without light, you can’t see color. The two combined are intrinsic to each other, and that’s why they make such great mediums for me to make work. My interest in both of them goes right back to being a child and being very sensory. I was always paying attention to the world around me, but it was also always the colors around me in a sensory capacity that would really turn me on. […] You could say that what I was doing as a five year old, I’m still doing now. My work has that joyful childlike playfulness to it and when people enter this piece. I hope that people can lose all their inhibitions and kind of remember what it was like to be a child again, and experience the world in that playful capacity.
What do you hope members of the public notice about Hymn to the Big Wheel and what do you want them to take away from their experience with the sculpture?
When the public engage with Hymn to the Big Wheel, what I want them to take away is how physical color mixing can happen in the visual world. The piece overlaps two colors in each panel to make a new color. It’s not three colors on each sheet, that color in the middle is a new color that’s being created by the two original vinyls in-between. […] I’ve tried to do this in other works of mine, but Hymn to the Big Wheel definitely gives people the experience of live color mixing. When people go and visit the piece I want them to take away is how the space around them changes. This is because when they’re in the art, the space is multicolored. It’s not just gray stone or concrete glass steel as our kind of architectural world around us. Inside the piece the world is bathed in colour, like having colored tinted glasses on. My hope is that it allows people to see the world around them differently. And I hope that that allows them to just maybe raise their eyes, look at the world around them and notice things that they might not normally see.
What does it mean to be an artist working in the public realm and in public art?
Being an artist working in the public realm comes with a massive responsibility attached to it. You are opening yourself to criticism. You’re opening yourself to everybody, not just an art focused audience viewing your work. What’s really nice about it is that putting art in the public realm, isn’t just putting art in working where it’s a set audience. People of all different ages and backgrounds are getting the chance to encounter your work. Maybe even on a daily basis. They might not notice it being an artwork, they might see it as architecture or design but I’m fine with that. I think putting art in the public realm is quite special. It comes with a different rule book. I think you have to think about different ways of practicing and working. It’s not just like making something yourself and putting in a gallery. You have to start consulting engineers, architects, fabricators, and commissioners. And it’s like a circus, in a good way in the sense that it’s not just me. It’s many people coming together and bringing their creative ideas and their specialties and collaborating. What I really think is good about public art is the teamwork and I love teamwork. I’m a team player. I’m quite happy that everybody involved in this project receives the acknowledgement of bringing Hymn to the Big Wheel to Manhattan.
New York is a pretty special place for me […] and as a British artist, having my work displayed here is a huge deal! I have had the opportunity to exhibit my work all over the world but Hymn to the Big Wheel has never been in America.