Recently I found myself lucky enough to be in New York (actually, the reason was that my husband had a significant birthday so we were celebrating which made it extra special). We walked, as tourists do now, the High Line from West 30th Street right down to Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district. Once an elevated freight railway line, the High Line has been converted into a pedestrian space, largely non-commercial (though with convenient pit stops like a coffee shop and a bar), and with "natural" planting to create different zones. The High Line, like St Pancras International the station we own here in London, uses public art to great effect. It creates a space in the city for people to reflect and recuperate. Some of the art is there on a semi-permanent basis, some on a rotational basis - again just as we do at St Pancras.
Terrace Wires is our rotational space. The objective is to encourage travellers to look up and find a break in their busy day for some reflection. The brief for artists who compete to fill the space is that they must be inspired by the station - the first piece in the Terrace Wires series was suspended in the Barlow Shed from April to October last year, and was Clouds Meteoros from Jorge + Lucy Orta (below). The artists conceived it as a meeting place in the sky hanging above the tracks which carry millions of people a year between London and the European continent. This year's installation, a piece by David Batchelor, will be unveiled in April 2014 and we are really looking forward to it lighting up the space and the station.
Back to the High Line though. The Billboard really caught my eye - a huge splendid, rotational site. In November, it was home to a piece of work by Thomas Demand, showing a clothes line and a few colourful pegs, on a clear sky background. While it was slightly ethereal, like the Clouds: Meteoros at St Pancras, it also drew the eye outward, lifting it skywards and definitely stopping the pedestrians in their tracks; making us all stand back and reflect. The artwork is an illusion - it's a photograph of a reproduction of these objects.
The Billboard site is right next to the busy 10th Avenue - a six lane highway through the city. The High Line designers have also used this to full effect - providing lots of seating where the line crosses the avenue. People use the benches at all times of day, looking north through a plate glass window which straddles all six lanes. They chat to one another or on their mobile phones, they eat, they drink, they gaze into the distance following the lights of the cars or watching the pedestrians, or perhaps admiring the new sophisticated architecture contrasted with the more traditional apartments and warehouses. This is Richard Scarry's "What Do People Do All Day?" for the modern, adult city dweller - the children's book brought to life. Even the digger, pick-up truck and tanks in the car park below the Billboard in this picture reinforce that impression.
There are various parallels between the Billboard site and Terrace Wires at St Pancras from the large dimensions, the rotational nature (with new artists bringing fresh ideas to the location) and the transport rich environment for the backdrop for example.
One big difference though is that High Line Art is supported by the public sector and private donations while Terrace Wires and other art at St Pancras is supported privately by HS1 Ltd. HS1 owns the concession to the station and is obliged to protect its beauty (the building is a Grade 1 listed structure and as such has been designated of the utmost national significance). You might ask why we support art at the station. Well that's easy, we do it because we believe that people want to be in places which hold interest for them, which stimulate their thoughts and which provide a little respite to what can otherwise seem a very mundane world - particularly for those who commute every day to and from their place of work.
So after all the craziness of Christmas and New Year, now is the perfect time to stop, take a break and look up - you might be surprised by the beauty of the buildings and places around you. Then come to St Pancras in April, look up to the Terrace Wires and take in a different view with David Batchelor's work: Chromolocomotion in place.