Rainbow Park

Artist: Adam Kalinowski
Location: Southbank Centre, London, United Kingdom
Year of completion: 2012

Researcher: Leon Tan

Rainbow Park by Polish sculptor Adam Kalinowski was commissioned by Cathy Mager for the London based Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World between June 16 and September 9, 2012. Consisting of a monumental installation made of 150 tons of colored and plain sand of different gradation, and 25 or so multi-colored sculptures resembling boulders, the project transformed the concrete atmosphere of Queen’s Walk (a stretch that leads from the London Eye to Tate Modern), making the space at once more lively and attractive to passers-by.

Conceived as an installation that changes as a result of audience participation over the 3-month duration of the festival, the artist deposited colored sand over the concrete walkway in sections reminiscent of the bands of a rainbow. As the audience walked over the sand and played within and across the colored sections, they effectively mixed the colors across each section’s edges, producing new colors. The mixing of red and blue, for example, produced violet along the edges.

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The mixing of grains of sand to produce new colors naturally recalls nineteenth century experiments in pointillism and divisionism. These experiments involved separating colors into individual dots, which would be synthesized optically, i.e. through a cognitive/perceptual act by the viewer. Unlike the nineteenth century artists, however, Kalinowski staged a collaborative experiment in color mixing and perception. Here, the collective audience, albeit unintentionally, displaces the individual artist in the composition of the dots of color.

Rainbow Park was created as a place of respite and imagination. The boulders scattered across the sand thus serve as seating areas, allowing participants moments of respite from their everyday routines as well as their habits of thinking and feeling. This temporary suspension of the habitual facilitates the imagination, and, through color association, the experience of different emotions within a public setting. In an interview, Kalinowski mentions his long-standing interest in color “put outside into the real world where the role of social meaning of a color is emphasized.” In this sense, Rainbow Park, like the artist’s other projects including The Practice of Freedom I & II, is an investigation into the social meanings and affective possibilities of color in the public sphere.

Kalinowski is also interested in human perception and its relation to change. Regarding Rainbow Park, he says, “The perception of these works is a fusion of physical, tactile, visual and iconological meanings of its elements, and they might have some therapeutic feature also.” The idea is that the changing environment of colored sand provokes unordinary (not habitual) perceptions, and that these perceptions may lead to positive changes in the social reality of participants. While the duration of unusual perceptions and their after-effects are difficult to track, the many documentary images provide ample evidence of members of the community engaging with the artwork through rest, contemplation and play in the project site.

According to Southbank Centre estimates, approximately 7.8 million visited the Festival of the World and viewed Rainbow Park. The artist himself estimates the number of active participants in the project to be at least 1.5 million. If visitor numbers can be taken as a quantitative measure of a project’s success, Rainbow Park was clearly a hit. As a placemaking initiative, there is little doubt that the project successfully transformed the site for the period of the festival, stimulating positive audience participation in social and contemplative activities.

As a large-scale experiment in social engagement with color in the public sphere, with over a million participants engaging in unordinary perceptual experiences, it would seem to be a success in terms of the artist’s intentions. It provides a great deal of research material for analysis, even if appropriately rigorous methodologies for such analysis remain to be developed.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency