Architectural Digest (UAE) - - Contents -

Liz West’s im­mer­sive works add a burst of colour to un­ex­pected places

The United King­dom has a rep­u­ta­tion for rainy weather. There are some years when sum­mer seem­ingly skips those stoic isles al­to­gether, and the fur­ther north you go, the gloomier the weather gets. Just ask artist Liz West, who grew up in the small York­shire town of Barns­ley and then spent three years at Glas­gow School of Art in Scot­land. “Think about it,” she says. “Barns­ley, North­ern. Glas­gow, re­ally North­ern. And then I moved to Manch­ester. Also North­ern. Three gritty, grey places, and out of that, this.”

We’re at Dubai De­sign Week, and West ges­tures to­ward a colour­ful art in­stal­la­tion com­pris­ing 169 neon plas­tic bowls ar­ranged in a siz­able hexag­o­nal shape. Fit­tingly, it rained for hours in Dubai the night be­fore, and wa­ter has filled the bowls which glis­ten in the Ara­bian sun, adding an­other di­men­sion to the kalei­do­scopic panoply. But this work, com­mis­sioned by emerg­ing fash­ion brand Ne­mozena, and ti­tled Aglow is no anom­aly. West’s oeu­vre is an ex­plo­ration of colour, from lights il­lu­mi­nat­ing spa­ces, to tinted mir­rors cast­ing poly­chro­matic re­flec­tions around rooms.

Un­til she was ap­proached by Ne­mozena, her ma­jor works were all im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tions, but what the Dubai-based fash­ion la­bel needed was an out­door piece that could travel from Paris Fash­ion Week, to Dubai De­sign Week and on to Mi­lan Fash­ion Week. “They sent me their look book and I loved the col­lec­tion,” she ex­plains. “I also loved their ethos of em­pow­er­ing women. Be­ing into Girl Power it was a good match. When you see the clothes with the work, you can im­me­di­ately see the

con­nec­tion in the pat­terns and the colours.”

Girl Power has been a part of West’s life since she was eleven. When the Spice Girls’ de­but mu­sic video Wannabe slammed it­self into the world’s col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, the band be­came an ob­ses­sion for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of young girls (and some boys). Un­like most fans though, whose fan­dom waned when say, Geri Hal­li­well left or when the group even­tu­ally dis­banded, West’s re­mained stead­fast. At univer­sity, armed with stu­dent loans and the newly minted eBay, she qui­etly amassed the largest col­lec­tion of Spice Girls mem­o­ra­bilia in the world – she holds the Guin­ness World Record

– and her loan­ing of the col­lec­tion to var­i­ous events and in­sti­tu­tions since then has en­abled her to pur­sue her ca­reer as an artist full-time.

West is quite care­ful when she talks about her col­lec­tion. She ex­plains she’s faced crit­i­cism from peo­ple in the past, and given in­ter­views to jour­nal­ists who’ve spun things she’s said in a dis­parag­ing man­ner. To her de­trac­tors the Spice Girls rep­re­sent shiny, asi­nine pop, and the ar­biters of High Art have trou­ble con­sol­i­dat­ing the two; pop cul­ture and art have often had a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship (see: Andy Warhol). Al­though West’s work isn’t fig­u­ra­tive, it is a prod­uct of the colour­ful en­ergy of the ‘90s. Her trans­portive in­stal­la­tions are re­minders that de­spite those over­cast skies, life can still be fun. West’s big break was a self-pro­duced show ti­tled Our Colour Per­cep­tion. She spent five days on her own, up a steplad­der, stick­ing left­over the­atre gels to the pre­ex­ist­ing light fix­tures in­side the build­ing. She opened to the pub­lic for one week­end, and through so­cial me­dia and word of mouth, the show was a huge suc­cess. She was com­mis­sioned by the Na­tional Me­dia Mu­seum to cre­ate a sim­i­lar in­stal­la­tion, and An Ad­di­tive Mix was the re­sult – coloured neon lights ar­ranged to pro­duced a pure white light. And in her first in­stal­la­tion us­ing nat­u­ral light, West ar­ranged 800 coloured mir­rors on the floor of a church so, as the sun­light streamed through the lancet win­dows, the colours re­flected up­wards and en­veloped the eaves.

As a child, grow­ing up with par­ents who were both artists, West wanted to go to Lon­don’s Gold­smiths School of Art. She’d read books about other young Bri­tish artists like Damien Hirst who’d been there. She didn’t get into Gold­smith’s, per­haps, she muses, be­cause her work has al­ways been as much about the aes­thetic as the con­cept, and Gold­smiths is heav­ily con­cep­tu­ally led. But the work we have from West is as evoca­tive. You won’t see a cow in a vat of formalde­hyde but when you walk through rooms lit like rain­bows you’ll smile widely. “Some­times I think we’ve for­got­ten the art of see­ing,” she says. “We’ve stopped look­ing around our­selves. I’m try­ing to slow peo­ple down and to in­vite them to see.”

“Some­times I think we’ve for­got­ten the art of see­ing. We’ve stopped look­ing around our­selves. I’m try­ing to slow peo­ple down and to in­vite them to see”


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