A confetti of luminosity dances its way onto an archaic ceiling: it’s a subtle invitation to engage with the grooves and crevasses of Chester Cathedral’s gaunt yet majestic architecture. On the floor beneath, pools of synthetic colour flood the entirety of the Chapter House; its perimeter brimming with a total of 765 coloured acrylic discs. These mirror-like circles, comprising 15 different shades, playfully bounce light – both naturally sourced and man-made – onto the walls, columns and ceiling above. This reflection process mimics the effects of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows through a distinctively disparate method.
An expert in colour and light manipulation, artist Liz West has spent her career illuminating a vast selection of buildings – from office-blocks to Gothic churches – in a bid to provide audiences with an alternative understanding of the premises that they encounter. In Our Colour Reflection, the viewer meets the English Gothic interior of Chester Cathedral with a renewed interest. The coloured light, cast back from the shiny surface of acrylic discs, projects a modern-day sense of wonder onto its surroundings. Unlike its stained-glass counterpart, it reflects, rather than filters light, to forge an awe-inspiring sight.
Mindful of her wide-ranging audience, West’s tableau is relatively neutral: the installation’s glossy surface enables viewers to attach their own symbolic reasoning to the work. The circular modules, each positioned at various heights and spanning the diameters of 30, 40, 50 and 60cm, disperse the Chapter House’s heritage-bound properties into an intangible flurry of mechanically-cut ellipses. In scanning the carpet of coloured discs, the audience can observe elements of arches, pillars, brickwork, window frames and stained-glass, reconfigured into new formations. Up above, the imagery projected outwards is devoid of its historic-counterpart and instead emits ocular orbs – much like those found in low-light photography.
Originally designed for 20-21 Visual Arts Centre, housed in Scunthorpe’s St John’s Church, Our Colour Reflection‘s migration to Chester illustrates the work’s adaptability in new locations, though perhaps not its site-specifity. Here, the piece is limited to a small surface-area and the audience is no longer permitted to walk around its perimeter. This halts the amount of interaction occurring between the viewer and the installation, while also drawing attention to the stark white radiators which line the space. There’s also the matter of light source: though described as solely natural, luminosity is partially gained from warm-toned spotlights. While perhaps a necessity, these positioned spots reduce the transitionary effects of daylight.
The 15 colours selected for the work emphasise the era in which Our Colour Reflection has been created: deep ultramarine, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, violet and evergreen are all rich, highly concentrated pigments which reflect upon block colour trends of the 20th and 21st centuries – artists Daniel Buren and Sol LeWitt also come to mind. Nevertheless, some shades can also be found in the Chapter House’s East stained glass window, albeit in more subdued and multi-tonal shades.
While it is visible that Our Colour Reflection was designed for a different space, its ability to shift layout and affect change within another context is evidence of its strength in responding directly to its immediate environment. It playfully animates a centuries-old interior, engaging new audiences with a space that may be otherwise alien to them, and drawing those already familiar with it, closer. Seemingly, Our Colour Reflection draws in and digests hundreds of years of architectural design, inviting the viewer to both reinterpret heritage and attach their own emotionality to the thousands of glimmering spheres that unite the past and present.