People become key players in Sabine Marcelis’ playground of seating
By Rosa Bertoli
When Sabine Marcelis was invited to ‘activate’ St Giles Square, the new space at the base of Centre Point in Tottenham Court Road, for London Design Festival 2022, she saw it as an opportunity to explore combining some of the recurring features of her work into her first London-based, long-term public piece.
“I enjoy finding tension within design: moments where you are at the verge of sculptural and functional, neither weighing heavier on the totality,” says Marcelis. Her ‘Swivel’ project for LDF22 features 10 swivelling chairs that mix-and-match stones in different colours and textures, sourced from Europe, the Middle East and Brazil.
“With Swivel, I’m using a very engineered system, and a material that is normally linked to formal settings – but in a very playful way, making it more accessible to interact with.”
This “playground of seating” invites people to come together on the square, to pause and find a moment of joy. The form of the chairs is a nod to the Brutalist architecture of Centrepoint, which serves as a backdrop for the installation; the high-rise’s grey and sober aspect also inspired Marcelis’ contrasting use of colour.
The project is a mind-blowing portfolio of natural stone: a mix of travertines, quartzite and marbles in shades of green, red, yellow, blue, purple; their surfaces defined by speckles, lines and other graphic textures. “Normally, I am in complete control of how a material looks, but with natural stone you have a given graphic quality to work with. The challenge becomes how to highlight that in the best way,” the designer explains. “I am forever amazed by the fact that these stones were created from pressure and time. I have a lot of respect for these materials, and want to use them wisely and responsibly as they took so long to be created.”
St Giles has a multilayered history. Originally a marshland in the outskirts of London proper, by 1966 – when Centre Point was built – the area was a traffic-heavy intersection, hectic with cars and buses. Now, St Giles is transforming again: what was once an area for vehicles is increasingly a place for people, with more pedestrianised areas and cycle lanes making it easier to navigate under our own power. “I am mostly fascinated by how such a myriad of worlds collide at the square,” says Marcelis. “It's a place of transition, history and connection.” Through her installation, she wanted to keep that feeling of movement, but simultaneously allow for a moment of rest and interaction within the space.
Marcelis’ experience with public installation was informed by her time studying at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. “It’s an extremely windy city: for this reason there are many wind sculptures around. It has always been fascinating to me how dynamic artworks really activate a space,” she says. “Whether that means an external force like the wind activates it and passers-by become spectators, or that passers-by participate in the activation. Because the location of St Giles Square is much more about people than any natural elements, this is what I wanted to focus on: how people can play a role in this installation. Completely static artworks are a thing of the past.”
'Swivel' is supported by Almacantar