water line

client: lewisham council and desiman developers | size: 4 x 4 x 7 meters | site: catford high street, london | material: painted steel | installed: 2006

“Once home to an eighteenth-century farmhouse, then to the local Hippodrome and Eros cinema, in the twenty-first century this grassy, oblong enclosure will be the location of Oliver Barratts’ thoroughly contemporary, yet historically informed work of art. With its vivid use of rhythm, its play with images of light and water, and its post-industrial lightness of touch, it will surprise and delight all those who see it.

The rhythm of the piece is crucial to its success. The figure’s loose, elliptical quality – elastic branches ramifying from a central arch – answers the hard architecture that surrounds it. Its sinuous lines generate a dynamic form that seems both still and moving. Enjoying a sense of perpetual energy and change, it traces a kind of afterimage, as though car headlights had been arrested, their glutinous threads strung together in a representation of rush hour traffic.

Light is another formal feature of the piece. The light projected onto the Eros cinema’s screen seems to live on in this sculpture. Its north-facing enclosure means that it always exists in shadow. But at night, the piece is lit so that it moves in and out of pools of light and shadow. This lends the sculpture a reflective quality, both physically and metaphysically. And, as traffic negotiates its way around the square, the perspective changes too. What might seem clotted and knotty when seen frontally, becomes a generous, elongated structure when viewed from the side.

The sculpture’s liquidity mirrors the site’s historical origin. Rushey Green Road, as its name implies, was once a river. A village pump survives as a clue to its watery source. This aquatic echo is developed in several ways. Lines hint at tributaries stitched together, while its soft blue colour and rippling brilliance under the light suggest the elemental presence of water. Open and inclusive, the piece mixes both past and present in its form.

The sculpture is a visual response to the insistent straightness and exposed concrete of Eros House. But rather than being merely confrontational, it seeks to complement the hard lines of its habitat, answering them with a fluidity that makes this an exemplary post-industrial piece. For all its seeming gentleness, however, it is a stunningly robust construction. At 4.5 m tall, and made of welded steel tube , it is a strong and confident presence in a tough urban environment. Light in tone, heavy in substance, it sensitively articulates a reply to the sharp edges of modern metropolitan life.

Passers by will no doubt wrestle with its complexity. But they will also respond to its energy and instinctively enjoy the tensions it sets up. Its playful attention to history, its rhythmical images of water and light ensure that it will become an enduring landmark, an emblem of the freedom and space that can still be found in this busiest of cities.”