Fi­nal Thought

Es Devlin roars into Trafal­gar Square

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _David Dick-agnew PHOTO _John Nguyen

After more than 150 years, the four mas­sive bronze li­ons that crouch, sphinx-like, be­neath Nel­son’s Col­umn in Lon­don are so en­meshed in the city’s fab­ric that they’re prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble to the crowds that swarm through Trafal­gar Square. As Lon­don De­sign Fes­ti­val chair Sir John Sor­rell re­marked dur­ing a stroll past the cats last year, “peo­ple ig­nore them. It would be great to bring a lion to life.” Luck­ily, his com­pan­ion that day was just the woman for the job. Es Devlin is best known for the elec­tri­fy­ing stage ef­fects she cre­ates for the likes of Bey­oncé, Mi­ley Cyrus and Adele. She’s also worked with Bri­tish punk band Wire and New York’s Metropoli­tan Opera. “I wanted to make a piece that was po­etic,” she says, “to in­vite ev­ery­one to help give the silent li­ons of Trafal­gar Square a col­lec­tive voice.” Dur­ing Septem­ber’s LDF, that voice emerged from a fifth lion – one Cnc-carved from foam blocks, coated in hard resin and fin­ished in bril­liant ver­mil­lion paint. To add a metaphor­i­cal roar, Google cre­ative tech­nol­o­gist Ross Good­win used a cen­tury-and-ahalf’s worth of Bri­tish po­etry to cre­ate a verse-writ­ing al­go­rithm. Prompted by words vis­i­tors “fed” the fe­line via a touch­screen po­si­tioned at the lion’s feet, the pro­gram com­posed such cou­plets as “That mu­sic of the sun­set sea­sons sweet / The sil­ver sun the stars shall crown.” By night, a “word storm” poured from the lion’s mouth and, thanks to pro­jec­tion map­ping, along the statue and up the col­umn, trans­form­ing the en­tire square – a tes­ta­ment to the tech­nol­ogy’s power to de­con­struct mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture. The same pro­jec­tion tech­nique can cre­ate the il­lu­sion a build­ing is com­ing apart be­fore our eyes. It can also, as with the re­cent pro­jec­tion of ads onto the Syd­ney Opera House, be per­ceived as de­bas­ing cher­ished icons. Al­though ar­chi­tec­ture can some­times seem static, in­ter­ven­tions like Please Feed the Li­ons re­mind us that time­less mon­u­ments are dy­namic sites. The po­etry may be non­sen­si­cal, but the medium sends the mes­sage: Even an un­chang­ing back­drop comes alive when cast in a new light.

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