Alex Chinneck creates surrealist illusions on a large scale. His work seeks to provoke thought and make us look twice at the architectural environment that surrounds us. With a playful approach to sculpture, Chinneck is equally interested in exploring the possibilities of materials and innovative building practice, which often inspire his artwork and help spark ideas about future projects. Not only a brilliant artist, Chinneck also has a lot to say about the philosophical implications of his work and how the distortion of familiarity is an important factor in what he hopes to achieve. After the completion of his latest project at Covent Garden, we sat down with him to find out more about what goes into making a public sculpture possible and the artistic transformation of architectural practice.
- Take me through the process of completing one of your large scale installations.
When conceiving an idea, there are so many elements that need to be considered. Most of those elements are contextually sensitive. For example, when developing an idea for Covent Garden piazza, it doesn’t just begin and end with the visual experience. Using that as a case study, I knew that I wanted to do something of significant scale and sculptural impact. I largely wanted to do that because I was conscious of the footfall through the piazza and the demographic that visits there. It is a place of recreation and holiday making. It is quite a fast place and not really one of contemplation, so the artwork had to be one of significant impact that meets an Instagram culture halfway. With those objectives in mind and the length of time it would be there for (1 month), I knew we would need temporary planning licenses from the council. You have to develop concepts with those logistical considerations in mind. I immediately knew that it made sense to develop an artwork that had a visual material synergy with the architecture in the square so therefore it acts as a celebration or integration rather than something that would deter or argue with the architecture of the district.
I also knew that I wanted to deliver an illusion because illusions are something that I’m excited by, but also they offer a kind of conceptual accessibility that any audience member could enjoy. That was really important because of the eclecticism of the visitors. When you are developing an idea, you think about who is visiting it, the mood and the pace at which they visit, the cultural identity and the visual language of the area, and finally the logistics such as building regulations because it has to pass those. It also has to integrate and you have to develop a structure and a system that considers access. Our footprint at the piazza is perfectly designed around three disabled cobbled ramps that lead into the market building, and the opening is the exact width so that when looking down the central avenue of the piazza, you don’t see the artwork. This was partly to pay homage to the architecture that was already there and not disrupt it in any way, but also to negotiate inevitable obstacles like planning.
When developing an idea, despite the playfulness and seeming simplicity of the concept, a lot of consideration goes into what would work and why it would work. For example, with the hovering building, it was an impact artwork for that kind of audience, whereas with the melting house, it is on a road where thousands of people go up and down the road to work each day as a commuter passage. In that way you can conceive an artwork that is about transformation and change and one that is about an evolution of a story, because people see it every single day.