Video: Art as an optical illusion in Leeds

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THAT Nike Savvas is the first artist to be simply handed the keys to a main exhibition space of Leeds Art Gallery and told to get on with it, is a testament of just how good the Australian is.

Of course, that’s not exactly what happened, but she is the first artist under the tenure of curator Sarah Brown to have been commissioned to come up with a new piece of art, specifically tailored for a space in the gallery.

Artist Nike Savvas and her work, 'Liberty and Anarchy'.

Artist Nike Savvas and her work, 'Liberty and Anarchy'.

“We’ve had other artists show exclusively in the gallery, but this is the first time we have actually commissioned an artist to come up with a piece for a specific space,” says Brown.

The gallery chiefs knew what they were doing when they asked Savvas to come up with something for the gallery – over two years ago.

“It’s been a long journey to this point. We managed to get funding from the Australian government and the gallery was fundraising, but I hope it’s been worth it,” says the artist, who was in Leeds to see the final touches being applied to her work.

Her piece, Liberty and Anarchy is the name of the exhibition and of the largest work of art exhibited at the gallery. It is a part of the first major UK solo show the artist has had in over ten yers. The central piece in the exhibition is made up of 18 large screens, each of which holds in place hundreds of individually placed, taut plastic, brightly coloured ribbons. Visitors will be able to walk through the work of art on specially guided tours, which will allow a ‘total immersion’ inside the work.

“It is inspired by an exhibition of work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art about the Op Art movement in the 1960s,” says Savvas.

Op Art, or Optical Art, is a style of painting or sculpture that uses optical illusions. The influence is clear to see in Savvas’s Liberty and Anarchy, which has a disorientating effect as you walk through it.

“As you move through the piece, you are actually creating thousands of different paintings as you view the work. The colours move in a moire effect, so that it can feel very odd as you look at it,” says Savvas.

“The idea is that it reflects some of the uncertainty and difficulty of the times we are living in.”

The work, unveiled at a private view last night and open to the public from today, will be on display at the gallery until next February.

Brown says: “While it is a piece of work that bears closer examination and is something that art critics and people who have a background in contemporary art will engage with, it’s also a piece that works on a much more simple level because, apart from being stunning, it is also about simple perception.”

Savvas is best known for the internationally acclaimed exhibition Atomic: Full of Love, Full of Wonder ( 2005, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne) in which thousands of brightly coloured polystyrene balls were suspended in the gallery.

In a second gallery space at Leeds Art Gallery, Savvas will premiere eight 3D geometric shapes of varying sizes made from wood, which have only previously been exhibited in her home country.

Brown says: “We have given Nike the freedom to work on a much larger scale than she has before. Liberty and Anarchy assaults you before you’ve even had a chance to think about what you’re seeing.”