bright spark

The present is a living membrane stretched on the musculature of the past. It’s contours; movements and rhythms of history can be glimpsed in the geography of the present.

Ravenscraig has, over the last decade been transformed from a heavy industrial plant to a brown field site in preparation for the future. All traces of the past have been removed in anticipation for the new. The coke ovens, storage yards and furnaces are long gone, and in there place is a centre of learning. My proposal looks to the past for inspiration, but sets its face to the future.

Over the centuries at the heart of the Ravenscraig site was the furnace; the crucible of transformation where earth, air and fire are assembled in an alchemical marriage.  The furnace profile has changed little over the years. It has been dictated by the chemistry of heat and oxidisation, however the scale and industrialisation has grown exponentially and as the plant developed the visual presence of the furnace was eclipsed by the infrastructure needed to feed the fire: pipes, flues, chimneys, platforms, wires and hoppers.

Hidden form site the furnace entered the collective imagination more as a metaphor, an icon of transformation rather than the physical reality of a belching fire. It is in this territory of forging connections between the imagined and the real, the remembered and the metaphorical, the past and the future that Bright Spark exits.

Standing 5.5 meters tall and made from stainless steel and painted bronze Bright Spark will be a commanding presence in the Ravenscraig campus.  The outside stainless steel structure describes the profile of the blast furnace that once inhabited the site. Now however fine clean lines have replaced the heavy solid mass of the industrial past. Inside the frame an elliptical, moving, highly modelled form reaches high up into the air and returns to the base.  It describes an endless sweep of energy, weaving and twisting, growing and hovering like the gesticulation of a flame. A topology of fire.  It rests on a solid block of corten steel that not only acts a base for the flame form but as an echo of the past where thousands of tons of steel poured from the belly of the furnace.  Meaning is embedded in the material of the work.

Bright Spark has been designed to make connections between the past and the future, the earth and the air, but perhaps more importantly it articulated the essential activity that is carried out on the campus.

Education, like the heat of the furnace has the power to transform. The relationship between the elements of Bright Spark articulate the balance needed for the process of learning. The balance between the reasoned, well-structured clarity of the teacher and the more intuitive fluid knowledge of the learner.  Between the well defined order of the  frame and the organic, exploratory response of the student. It articulates the need of the students to define them selves within the intellectual architecture that is provided for them.  A type of interdependence that is also seen in the furnace and the fire.

In this symbiotic image of the giver and the given, the teacher and the taught, connections are deliberately made. The energy from one feeds into the other and back again. In Bright Spark these connections have been modelled to hint at the neurological connections in the brain. The forms twist and weave, curve and join in a type of puzzle that is analogous to the very process of thinking.

The dominant buildings of the campus are tall and thin.  Bright Spark takes its lead from its architectural proportions and will stand grandly and gracious in the plaza.  The points of connections echo the structural connection within the architecture where the steel frame meets the curved pods of the building. The white render and charcoal grey brick that detail the building are replied to by the brilliant colour and organic modelled surface of the form.

As well as being an emblem at the heart of the college Bright Spark also functions as a place. Its curved lines, low base and robust materials invite students to visit. It is not a distant stranger but a benign presence within the campus. The sculpture makes connections between the old and the new. The grandeur of the furnace with the intimate, subtle functioning of the brain. The industrially vast drifts into the molecularly small.

By night the form would lose some of its definition and dissolve into enigma. A flame hovering at the centre of the collage. Its sparks and twist could be seen throughout the campus. It will act as a type of poetic torch of perpetual fire: gracious, questioning and inspiring.


Oliver Barratt
March 2009