Thursday 13 May 2010

John Gerrard's tunnel vision

Art on the Underground is one of London transport's greatest assets, bringing fun and culture to our daily journeys. Its latest commission to be unveiled is an installation by Irish artist John Gerrard in Canary Wharf station. 

As the suits descend the escalators in the futuristic, grey interior of the ticket hall they now face a different view – Gerrard's huge digital moving image of a landscape depicting a grain store in America. It's called 'Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas)’ and will be exhibited here for one year until 14 May 2011. Angelo Martinez is the small figure who is painting the barn black. The scene runs 24 hours a day, the light altering according to the time, and it turns showing different angles of the building.  

Gerrard is the only artist working in this hi-tech medium of realtime 3D and this work is designed to gradually build up digitally over 30 years – it began in 2008 and ends in 2038. 

I met the artist yesterday to discuss the purpose of public art. "All good art is public art in that it’s not selfish," says Gerrard. "It speaks to society in a real, meaningful sense. In this context the term is very appropriate because 45 million people use this station daily. It’s an ideal setting."

'Oil Stick Work' has an environmental message - like many of Gerrard's other works, it comments on depleting oil supplies. The site used to be one of the biggest oil producing regions of America and the work is due to reach completion on the day that American oil supplies are predicted to run dry. It's also in the artist's words, "a dreamscape", "an anti memorial", "an exit into another world", "a mirror to a computer-powered world". My favourite description of Gerrard's is, "It feels like a postcard inserted into this end of the station."

But the real significance of 'Oil Stick Work' is that it's constantly unfolding underneath the City, which was built on things such as oil and grain wealth. And, as well as the moral message, its minimalism suits the space, giving commuters a five-second glimpse of a work with many layers of meaning.  

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