Alan Johnston: Northern Mirror At Outwood Country Park, Radcliffe, Lancashire, indefinitely
Instead of the usual stroll in a park or some woods that most outdoor collections of sculpture offer, the Irwell Sculpture Trail is a 50km-long footpath that threads its way from the River Irwell's source in the Pennines to Salford Quays. South of Radcliffe, near Bury, it picks up the course of an old railway line near the former Outwood Colliery, whose workings are now largely camouaged, and a few hundred metres from here is a new permanent addition to the trail: a collaboration between artist Alan Johnston and architect Reiach and Hall.
Entitled Northern Mirror, the work is a T-shaped configuration of 2,000 x 1,200 x 17.5mm laminated toughened-glass panels, framed in stainless steel and enclosed in a gridded metal cage. Slightly recessed at the edge of some quite thick woodland, its position signalled by a nearby silver birch, the sculpture plays with degrees of transparency, translucency and reection - it's part mirror, part window.
Effects vary considerably with the intensity of light and the viewer's position. From an oblique angle, for instance, the sculpture seems to generate a fourth arm and become a Greek cross, with the reected boundary of the cage appearing more 'real' and vivid than the actual one.
Some form of protective container was clearly a security necessity, and Johnston wanted it to be 'anonymous' not precious; the metal is painted an unassertive pale grey, rhyming with the oor of grey stone chippings. But the intervals in the cage's mesh uctuate, adding to the complexity of the sculpture as reality and reections are overlain.
Johnston has a history of involvement with architecture and architects: his delicate wall drawings on Hans Schmidt's 1920s Colnaghi House near Basel; his collaborations with Diener and Diener and Shinichi Ogawa (AJ 20.07.00).
Whatever his own agenda in those works and this current one, from an AJ perspective it's hard to look at Northern Mirror without thinking of the close attention architects have given to optical effects during the last decade or so, particularly in their treatment of facades; their use of glass, polycarbonate or other materials in ways that actively welcome vagaries of light and weather. Herzog & de Meuron and Gigon Guyer are two of many names that come to mind; practices that relish ambiguity. But then, as Tim Martin suggests in his review of The Modern Sculpture Reader (see page 48), architecture and sculpture have had much in common of late.
The setting of Northern Mirror is a definite factor in its success. Though the surrounding landscape still bears traces of its industrial past, it is relatively wild now, with an attractive air of seclusion. In the vicinity are some monumental granite works by Ulrich Ruckriem, and an electricity substation which reminds Johnston of Mies' brick villas at Krefeld - along with foxgloves and orchids. There's a strong sense of place here, which Northern Mirror has already reinforced.
Visit www. northernmirror. com For Reiach and Hall's Pier Arts Centre see pages 21-33