Richard Wilson is one of Britain’s most renowned sculptors and is Internationally celebrated for his large scale works wh-ich capture the imagination with his playful fascination with space
“Slipstream” at Heathrow’s terminal Two is a celebration of invincible beauty in aviation. The sculpture creates a key focal point in the new terminal designed by Spanish Architect Luis Vidal.
In what is his heaviest and largest installation to date weighing 77 tonnes and at 78 meters in length the sculpture is an impressive feat in engineering considering the four columns it rests upon were designed to only carry the roof. Costing £2.5 million to become reality, it is his most expensive installation as well. Like so many of his past works the sculpture integrates and reacts to the building architecture, it twirls around the four columns and joins two public walkways.
The domineering piece expresses the twists and turns in the airstream of a Zivko Edge 540 stunt plane. To give an acc-urate representation of the flight movement, Wilson enlisted the help of engineers to digitally capture the planes movement in light using aerospace technology.
In order for the Slipstream to become a reality Wilson consulted structural engineers Price & Mers and specialist Hull-based fabricators Commercial Systems International (CSI). The sculpture was manufactured in Hull in 23 giant sections and transported, piece by piece, from Hull to Heathrow in June 2013. The striking sculpture welcomes over 20 million visitors a year into the new atrium space.
Airports atrium can often make people feel uneasy and can be seen as a place to simply pass through to your destination but, in a manner harking back at the Art Deco movement, Wilson has created a focal point of movement and drama that celebrates the act of flying.
The plane, a highly engineered machine outputs and elegant air stream only visible for a few moments has been frozen, encapsulated in aluminium form. Wilson has created an installation that encompasses the excitement, thrill and awe of flying. Describing his inspiration, Wilson comments:
“Imagine filling the void of the central court of Terminal 2 with clay. Now imagine a small stunt plane journeying through the mass of clay somersaulting, spiralling, twisting, climbing and gliding. Once out the other side, imagine the void left by the plane in the clay, is filled with fast setting plaster. When hard, imagine the hall is excavated of all clay to leave a plaster form. Imagine what this solid but fluid shape of movement of the plane through space could look”.
In the last 30 years, Wilson has created spatial installations that have an air of child like wonderment coupled with daring engineering. This marriage of elements creates installations that make the visitor perceive the space in a different light or dimension.
Richard Wilson’s career took off after Charles Saatchi noticed his work 20:50 whilst on exhibition at an East London Gall-ery. It has now been restaged in Japan, America and Australia. The Installation which uses recycled sump oil and enginee-red steel is the longest running permanent installation in the Saatchi Gallery.
At first glance 20:50 is almost invincible easily being mistaken as an optical illusion or a polished floor the name 20 : 50 comes from the viscosity grade of the sump oil used. The visitor is invited into the space by cut outs in the waist high reservoir of still oil. Once surrounded the viewer is placed at the midpoint of a symmetrical visual plane, mirroring the architecture of the room exactly.
The simplistic beauty and elegance of the installation does more than reflect the architecture of the space it creates and altered perceptions, almost a new dimension. Making visitors pause, look and rethink their perception of environments, a running theme though Wilson’s work.