The Big 4 Breathes

The new commission for the Big 4, Channel 4’s public art project that can be found outside the broadcaster’s Horseferry Road headquarters in London, has been unveiled. The latest iteration of the project sees artist Hannah Gourlay turn the giant Channel 4 logo into a living sculpture, which appears to breathe slowly in and out…

Photographs: Dave King

The new commission for the Big 4, Channel 4’s public art project that can be found outside the broadcaster’s Horseferry Road headquarters in London, has been unveiled. The latest iteration of the project sees artist Hannah Gourlay turn the giant Channel 4 logo into a living sculpture, which appears to breathe slowly in and out…

The Big 4 was originally constructed by FreeState (who continue to manage the platform) with Mike Smith Studio in 2007, to celebrate Channel 4’s 25th anniversary year. It consists of a 50-foot-high steel naked frame that can be customised with ‘skins’ designed by artists. Previous designs have been created by internationally renowned artists, including Nick Knight and Mark Titchner, but more recently the space has been given over to art and design students and graduates who can apply with ideas for dressing the logo.

Early sketch for the project

Gourlay graduated from the Fashion Design BA course at Kingston University in 2008, and has since worked as a multidisciplinary designer across fashion, product design, graphic design and illustration. The piece she created for the Big 4 breathes slowly in and out, at a similar pace to yogic breathing. “I wanted to create a brief moment of calm for passers-by and Channel 4 staff, a moment to pause for relaxation, reflection and renewal,” she says.

To create the installation, Gourlay and FreeState collaborated with structural engineers Atelier One and Architen Landrell, a tensile architecture specialist. Each section of the Big 4 has been wrapped in a fabric from Dartex Coatings Ltd, which is more commonly used for NHS bed mattresses but chosen here for its ability to stretch sufficiently and then revert to its natural shape. The breathing effect is created by electric fans, which draw in air from the outside. These are then turned off and the pre-tension of the fabric pushes the air out. At night, the 4 will be lit from within to give a golden glow.

“The Big 4 blends in with the glass and steel surroundings of the striking Channel 4 building and then it gently transmogrifies into playful balloon shapes, which reveal its fabric qualities,” continues Gourlay. “Working with Channel 4, FreeState, Atelier One and Architen and seeing the idea develop from my small, rubber-covered model, which I got my housemate to breathe in and out of, was so exciting! The process of having to comprehend the considerable technical and logistical challenges involved in making a 50ft structure ‘breathe’ has been invaluable.”

More info on the Big 4 can be found here, and on Hannah Gourlay’s work, here. Gourlay’s Big 4 piece will be on show until April 2012.

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