London Canal Museum and Institute of Physics head down ice wells for Superposition

By Ben Miller | 29 August 2013

Intrepid art fans in London are being advised to ditch their sandals, flip-flops and high heels and head down an underground path with a muddy underpass for a new exhibition featuring a huge, shimmering set of suspended discs created by the Institute of Physics and the London Canal Museum.

A photo of a circular sculpture made out of multicoloured discs hanging from a ceiling
The ice well home of Superposition was built by a Swiss immigrant during the 19th century© Institute of Physics
Working in two subterranean Victorian ice wells at the Canal Museum’s site near King's Cross station, the artists have had to descend two fixed metal ladders to size up and install their work, Covariance, in a space certain to be one of the most evocative and eerie in the capital this summer.

“I found the accuracy with which the diamantes must be placed quite tricky,” admits Dr Ben Still, reflecting on his visit to the Ely home of his artist accomplice, Lyndall Phelps, in which he attempted to work with some of the hundreds of elements deployed in her spectacular structure.

“Instead, I realised my calling lie in preparing the brass rods for the glass beads to sit upon.

“I have been lucky enough play my part in the construction of a cutting edge particle detector, and I feel equally privileged to have played my part in the construction of Covariance.”

Phelps says she is “thrilled” with the post-installation look of the work.

“It's a perfect fit with the industrial feel of the ice well,” she feels.

“The contractors did a brilliant job.

“Alongside the disc installation I'm making a series of light boxes which will be shown in one of the two ice wells.

“To create the images I made a work from glass beads, froze it in a tub of water and then photographed it while melting, which was lots of fun. The light boxes are made from hot rolled steel.”

The artist issues something of an understatement by calling her process “labour-intensive” – a description referencing something of the history which inspires her.

“There is always a strong conceptual link to each individual work,” she says.

“During my conversations with Ben I came across an image of a woman collating data from bubble chamber experiments in 1970.

“Thousands of women were employed to do this work; they were actually called computers.

“The image became a strong influence for me and has directly affected my choice of using glass beads and diamantes, which are more commonly used in women's craft.

“You could say I'm aligning myself with the work ethic employed by these women.”

More pictures:

A photo of various containers with small colourful beads inside them
© Institute of Physics
A photo of lots of small green beads on circular scientific plates
© Institute of Physics
A photo of a circular silver sculpture hanging from the ceiling of a tunnel
© Institute of Physics
A photo of various circular sculptures made out of colourful beads hanging from a wall
© Institute of Physics
A photo of a circular sculptural installation within a darkened underground space
© Institute of Physics
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