Es Devlin roars into Trafalgar Square
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.