“Liberty and Anarchy”; – Op art and string theory in Leeds

The main exhibition showing at Leeds City Art Gallery at the moment is “Liberty and Anarchy”, with works by the Australian artist, Nike Savvas. The exhibits occupy two rooms on the ground floor of the gallery.

One of the rooms is devoted to a specially commissioned large scale installation ‘Liberty and Anarchy’ , after which the exhibition is named. It comprises 18 large screens made up of thin plastic, brightly coloured ribbons, hanging down vertically from the floor to the ceiling, each screen with ribbons of a different colour.

Entering the gallery and seeing a curtain of brightly yellow coloured strips, with hints of other colours through the gaps, wasn’t particularly inspiring. The work really needs to be experienced from the inside – by walking through the spaces between the individual curtains when visually unsettling patterns will be experienced by the viewer, like the effects created by “op art” paintings. Unfortunately the ribbons are fragile and so  the gallery has restricted access within the curtains to “guided tours” at specific times (11 o’clock each day). Unfortunately we arrived too late to participate. However, I found the following video where the curator talks about the work and which gives an impression of what it would be like to get inside the work (once you’ve watched the advert at the beginning).


In the second gallery there are a number of structures made of coloured wool threaded on wooden frames, not unlike the stringing that Gabo, Hepworth and Moore sometimes used on their sculpture. The stringing on these works, however, was more complex. The artist had created them in accordance with a mathematical formula, x 2/3 + y 2/3 = L 2/3, an equation that can be used to determine the length (L) of a ladder that can be carried horizontally around a corner, or the positions on the wall and floor of the ends of a ladder sliding down a wall. The solutions to the formula (anyone mathematically inclined can read find out more about the procedure here). Hence the collective name for the works the “Sliding Ladder” series. The ends of the strings have been positioned in accordance with the solutions to the formula (the x and y co-ordinates) generating a distinctive star shaped “envelope” – an astroid. The results reminded me of the patterns I used to create with my “Spirograph” when I was a boy.

Conceptually, this stringing is a simple idea. But constructing the individual pieces would have required considerable skill and patience. And Savvas has introduced some interesting variations on the theme in this “sliding ladder” series.  So, for example, the astroid is normally a four pointed star shape, but Savvas’ use of polygonal structures to support the strings has created different patterns. Combining several strung frames adds complexity and interest, as does ghostly shadow patterns cast on the floor by light shining through the structures.

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For most of the works, she’s used brightly coloured yarn for the stringing, in some cases using garish, fluorescent, hues.

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She has also used the approach with three dimensional structures producing more complex structures and patterns.

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There were also some related black and white two dimensional works on display from the Sliding Weave series, also created using mathematical relationships, which were quite similar to the op art work produced by Bridget Riley

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1 thought on ““Liberty and Anarchy”; – Op art and string theory in Leeds

  1. Introduced my sister to Leeds art gallery this week. Pleased to see you’ve been viewing my namesake, happy new year!

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