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Artist reaches for the sky; Catherine Jones on plans for new Mersey sculpture.

IMAGINE a spiralling column of cloud spinning up from the Mersey and disappearing into the sky - a column visible from as far as 60 miles away.

Next week that image could become a step closer to reality.

The team behind artist Anthony McCall's Projected Column is waiting with baited breath to find out if the giant moving sculpture will impress judges enough to become the north west's most ambitious artistic contribution to the 2012 Olympics - and win the pounds 500,000 funding to turn the idea into reality.

Arts Council England and London 2012's Artists Taking the Lead project forms part of the cultural activities surrounding the London games.

It's with that in mind I met London-born but New York-based artist Anthony on the banks of the Mersey on a grey, blustery day to talk mile-high sculptures.

"The thing which always strikes me when I'm around the Mersey, and it's something to do with the width of the estuary, is the sense that you have on each side of the river quite a narrow and very low band - even though you know some of them are immense - of urban buildings, and above that strip of buildings is an immense, immense sky - gigantic - dominating everything," says the 63-year-old.

"It's very natural to then put a line upwards to anchor this long strip, and that's a very simple idea."

Simple idea it may be, but the execution of that idea currently has the backing of both FACT and Liverpool Biennial and a team of 11 working on it - with Anthony and scientist engineer John McNulty at the core.

"John is a very old friend and colleague, we worked together in our 20s," explains Anthony.

"He's a great scientist and inventor and knew my work very well so when I started talking about mist he started thinking about it and showed me some things he was working on connected to mist, and we realised we had the beginnings of a viable project.

"We just kept on developing the idea together on paper, then did some experiments and that worked very well.

"It's part thinking, part computer modelling, and part building models. But there's a limit to what you can build until you get up to the real scale of these things."

And here we come to it - how to realise Anthony's 'simple idea' of a Projected Column, a sculpture of cloud rising spinning high into the atmosphere.

In the words of Jennifer Aniston in those L'Oreal TV adverts, 'pay attention, here comes the science bit'.

"Think about convection currents off the side of hills," suggested Anthony. "The sun heats the hill so there's a convection current. You can't see it but birds float on it, but that warmth dissipates.

"Nature has also made a different kind which is called a coherent convection, a column, and the reason it stays 'coherent' is because it's spinning.

"An example would be a water spout or dust devil. They've concentrated a bit of heat and they've got spin from the wind, and they form - thousands of them a day all over the world.

"We're copying physics, which is basically gently rotating water on the surface and adding some heat. It's that heat which makes it lift off, like a hot air balloon.

"The water on the surface vaporises, turns into cloud and then goes upwards. The cloud is just warm air condensing as it meets colder air."

Not only will the column rotate upwards towards the heavens, but it will also be manipulated into different forms.

"The structure is cinematic," explains Anthony. "I'll be playing with cycles of appearance and disappearance.

"It will actually have a personality.

"My work is between sculpture and cinema. Sculpture because it's a three dimensional object and cinema because it changes over time. So the Projected Column will have that property to it."

The Merseyside weather will also have a bearing.

"The column will literally dance with the weather," explains Anthony.

"So if there's a high wind it will bend with it, and then it will climb.

"It has a sinuous, sympathetic, serpentine form to it."

The idea is actually a reversal of Anthony's usual art forms, in his words "a column of mist in light rather than a column of light in mist."

He began his career in the early 1970s with solid light installations, the idea of light projected through mist or smoke, much in the way that when you're in a cinema "if you turn around with your back to the screen, there's something there".

"I've made 30 years of work based on a very simple observation," he says.

And of course, while you will be able to see the 'mist through light' column from miles away, it is also likely to draw a crowd at its source at Morpeth dock in Birkenhead.

Will they 'get it' though? "I'm very confident in audiences in general," the artist says. "There's an engagement which doesn't require an art history degree and is palpable and pleasurable, and I don't even have to take credit for that it's just the nature of my medium.

"The lovely thing is this will be visible on a clear day for at least 100km in every direction, so it means every neighbourhood in the north west will have it as part of their landscape in the distance, and of course there will be that rather fun part which is going 'to the end of the rainbow' which means Birkenhead."

Arts Council England makes its decision on October 22.

If the Projected Column is successful it will be in place by 2011.

CAPTION(S):

CLOUD GAZING: Artist Anthony McCall looks across the Mersey to where The Cloud (inset) could be installed picture by GAVIN TRAFFORD
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 13, 2009
Words:957
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