We Chat To United Visual Artists, Ahead Of Barbican Exhibition

United Visual Artists (UVA) combine sculpture, installation, architecture and digital media to create unique works of art. Their new show, Momentum, opens at Barbican’s Curve Gallery on 13 February. It promises to challenge our perception of time and space through their unique blend of art and technology. We spoke to UVA’s Alexandros Tsolakis, Ben Kreukniet and Creative Director Matt Clark to find out more.

How did Momentum come about?

MC: About six months ago, Barbican just contacted us and said there was an opportunity to create a work for the Curve.

BK: It’s one you can’t turn down. We’d talked a few times about what spaces we’d love to work in and it was always on top of the list. It’s unique, in that it’s quite tall, long, narrow and cavernous all at once. It’s a great space to play with.

MC: It’s also had some quite interesting and leftfield exhibitions over the years, so it’s exciting but also quite challenging, because of that history.

Is that challenge a creative stimulus? Does it drive you to produce better work?

MC: Absolutely. It’s not the scale — we’ve worked on physically big projects before; most of our work is site-specific and very public. I think it’s more daunting that we’re doing something in our home town, as a lot of our work is abroad.

BK: This is a place that we come to with our friends on the weekend. So now we’re bringing our friends to our own show and getting their opinion.

MC: I think it’s great that it’s free and so that takes a bit of the pressure off.

BK: But because of that you get a slightly different audience. A lot of people who come to the Curve wouldn’t normally go to an art gallery. That’s really good, because we want to make something those people will really like.

MC: The challenge is to make a piece that appeals both to us and to that wider demographic, which isn’t always easy.

Your studio is based in Borough. What made you choose that area over some other, perhaps more ‘arty’, districts?

MC: Selfishly, because I’m a south Londoner! When I left college, I worked in Shoreditch where there are bigger creative communities but I just had enough of it. I’ve always loved the London Bridge area — it’s got roads with names like ‘Crucifix Lane’ and a graveyard for Medieval prostitutes! Borough Market, Tate Modern — it’s just got so much to offer. Most of the team come from northeast London though.

BK: But I wouldn’t want a studio in Dalston. You don’t need to be surrounded by Dalston to do good creative work.

MC: It’s also for affordability — we need space to make stuff, make noise, and that’s easier to find south of the river.

Where in London inspires you?

MC: The London parks are really nice. We had a lovely coffee on the Serpentine yesterday, watching the sunset.

BK: Riding through Victoria Park in the sunshine, or across Waterloo Bridge at sunset. You respond to the space though — while we’ve got a great studio, the Barbican is a really inspiring place to come to work.

MC: One of the first things we do when we go to a new city is go to the highest point to get a sense of where you are. When you go to a new space, you look at its architectural personality. For the Curve, there’s a lot to work with. You can really control the atmosphere and the acoustics.

Did it present any particular challenges?

AT: It was very challenging, but we love those kinds of challenge. You typically work in ordinary square spaces, whereas this is narrow, long, curved and tall, so it needs special treatment.

MC: It’s always the more boring stuff that takes the most amount of thought — drilling into concrete, laying cables. For this piece, there’s a concert hall next door, so we have to be sensitive to the noise. We also have to make sure we don’t let the atmospheric effects seep out into the rest of the building.

What do you think needs brightening up with the UVA magic dust?

BK: The Elephant & Castle roundabout!

MC: I quite like that structure in the middle [the Faraday Memorial] — it could have been an early UVA work. But it’s all being transformed. There’s lots of places I’d like to see ripped down though — that place next to the MI6 building [St George Wharf]. It’s horrific! So maybe we’d rather tear a few things down!

AT: The whole field of lighting hasn’t progressed as much as architecture. Sometimes you see these amazing monuments and they’re so badly lit. There are so many simple things that could be done with lighting to improve existing buildings in London.

What’s next for UVA?

MC: We’ve been commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, who have asked us to create a seven-storey light sculpture in their central staircase [at their building on Euston Road]. And we’re doing some more work with Massive Attack.

Momentum opens at Barbican’s Curve Gallery on 13 February. Entrance is free.

By Rob Kidd

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