barbican – United Visual Artists: Momentum – What Justine said

barbican – United Visual Artists: Momentum – What Justine said

“Let’s go to an exhibition” she said, “let’s try something a bit different” she said, “let’s go to that UVA exhibition with all the lights at the Barbican” she said. This is what I said…

The curve at the barbican is an empty space that follows the natural arc of the back of the barbican’s theatre, and it’s this disused location that has been cleverly turned into an immersive space for art. A surprise hit, as out of nowhere most of London found themselves waiting in the torturous queues to get into the ruddy thing. Those of you who were patient enough to wait stoically in the two hour (minimum) queue for the Random International Rain room in 2012 (a rainstorm indoors that wet everything but you), may remember how surprisingly rewarding the experience was. Who knew a single curved space could cause such furore? The exhibition that I had been invited to was Momentum, an art installation by United Visual Artists, and as far as I knew it was a room of cool swinging lights and was a must see on any London Life blogger’s list.

With all of this in mind I was determined to be prepared, like the girl scout I always wanted to be (An incident with some loose trouser elastic and overenthusiastic racing soon put a stop to that. Shame kept me from returning and earning my final badge). And so I arrived early doors, on a blustery Saturday morning, armed with a strong coffee, a hot croissant, and stoic resolve that even Marcus Auralieus would have marvelled at. I intended to combat the dreariness of waiting in line by enjoying a stand up breakfast. But as luck would have it there was no queue and we were admitted (sans food and beverage) straightaway. Typical!

We were granted immediate entry, guided through some heavy black curtains, and thrust into a dark and slightly musty space. Upon entering, I suddenly found myself entertaining a slightly cynical and cavalier attitude (probably still miffed about the missed opportunity of my ‘revolutionary’ standup breakfast), but this was quickly dulled as my curiosity and imagination got the better of me and I was pulled into the hypnotic atmosphere of the room. The hint of smoke in the air combined with the pendulum of the lights encouraged a feeling of Orwellian dystopia; of an eerie old pirate ship docked on a mysterious island; of dark Victorian alleyways where Jack himself used to lurk; the list is as limitless as you let your imagination be. It was almost as interesting to watch the reactions of the other visitors as they explored the space and took in the atmosphere. Some sat on the edges of the room in the shadows, watching the lights, afraid to cross their illuminating path, whilst others sheepishly wandered into the light, leaving them exposed in the middle of the dark room.

Momentum is the result of detailed research into how to create a space where the technology occupying it, is the catalyst as well as the creator of the atmosphere it fosters. Each pendulum light (12 in total) is custom built for this very purpose and I have to admit you do get sucked into it. The Barbicans gallery space, The Curve, provides a great setting for this installation as you find yourself wandering blindly down a curved corridor, lit by spotlights that seem to hum and change when you walk by. The only thing I can think to comparing it to (apologies for the geeky reference) is the sound a lightsaber makes when it reacts to being swished around in the air – although not nearly as extreme or life threatening…

As I neared the end of the curved room, I felt a little pang of sadness as I knew this experience was coming to an end. Visitors are given the option to stay for as long or as short as they want, and if you ignore the obvious sprinkling of spotlight selfies then it is quite a relaxing place. Whether you go and get enveloped in the eerie atmosphere or come out thinking it was just a room full of lights, it’s definitely worth a visit. Especially if you come prepared for a standup breakfast, she said…

The barbican United Visual Artists: Momentum runs until 1st June

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Justine Middleton