Review: United Visual Artists, Momentum, Barbican Curve


Momentum is a new ‘immersive’ installation at the Barbican, London. It is to be found in what is known as The Curve, a 200 yard curving corridor-cum-artist’s-space within the massive, City of London funded, Barbican Centre.

It is the work of United Visual Artists, the London-based masters of the wonderful Light Emitting Diode (LED), the simple technology that is fast transforming the world of electronic art.

The installation consists of a series of sound and light-emitting pendulums dotted at regular intervals all the way through the space. One moment they appear as a circular light hovering above you; on another they emit a sharp beam of light onto the floor.

These light sources are not static but oscillate and hover somewhat menacingly. To view them in pitch darkness is to be thrown into a sci-fi underworld that makes you wonder: friend or foe? But there is also a degree of illusion here too. By presenting the work in darkness they make it near impossible to see the joins, or rather the wires, gantries and electronics controlling these devices.

At one moment menacing, at other times mesmerising and even meditative, this work creates a curious atmosphere. You are aware of a score of other people walking through the space (you enter at one end and leave at the other) and of the sense of wonderment it creates. Your attention switches between viewing the lighting effects near and far, observing others in the half-light, and fixating momentarily on the changing sound track which is adds to the translucency of the atmosphere. But it is perhaps the dance of the 12 light sources oscillating in harmony that grabs you the most, as it is the most visually pleasing and offers the greatest perspective on The Curve’s space itself.

According to UVA, their aim is to “mess with your perception of both time and physical space. The work is designed to feel like a natural space. Our interest is in tension between the natural and the synthesised.”


UVA was formed in 2003 by Matthew Clark, Chris Bird and Ash Nehru. It now has a significant track record of delivering commissioned installations at everything from the Serpentine Gallery, and works in London to Mexico and Japan. Perhaps, most significantly, the group cut its teeth by providing the lighting shows for Massive Attack.

Their interest is in using new technologies to simulate nature and to marry our sense of natural and technological in ways that are entrancing and magical. Light has forever been a fascination for artists, but today artists like UVA have technologies and possibilities that could only have been dreamt of just a few years ago.

Verdict: I like what these guys are trying to do with light and space. You get a sense of the potential for new works using lights, mechanics, sound and clever code. The ability to create new environments seems limitless; as if we are on the edge of a new frontier. I also like some of the work they have done with lasers which can be seen in the second video. You get the feeling that artists like this are on the one hand channeling one of the oldest forms of art and drama and yet at the other being part of a tsunami of new art that is crashing onto the beach of artistic convention. UVA are surely ones to watch and with their collaborative approach to creativity it will be fascinating to see what directions they go into in future works.

Full UVA bio here

Youtube videos on UVA here

Barbican Press Release on UVA Momentum

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