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This Mirrored Rainbow Room Is a Playground for Light

Liz West turns the rainbow on its head in her new installation, 'An Additive Mix."
August 6, 2015, 7:20pm
An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light.

When she was seven years old, Liz West had a habit of building the color spectrum with her sizeable nail polish collection, arranging it on her window sill, and allowing the light to filter through. 23 years later, as her newest light installation, An Additive Mix, becomes the UK National Media Museum's offering for the UNESCO International Year of Light, West is still an organizer. Now, though, she makes dazzling, room-sized light artworks that share her obsession with color with the world.

An Additive Mix is made up of 250 fluorescent lights, in 191 different colors, that blend together to cast a glow of perfectly white light. Previous installations like Your Colour Perception make a statement with rich, vivid shades—not unlike those in the works of Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell—but An Additive Mix was an idea she hadn't been able to get out of her head. Its title comes from the scientific term for all the colors forming white light: an additive mixture. "There's an expectation, perhaps, that when you enter under blue or red, that you're going to see the stripes of color on your skin. But you don't. You look in the mirror and see your face and your clothes in perfect white," West tells The Creators Project. "I just found that basic concept fascinating, and I wanted to demonstrate it on a massive scale."

An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light.

The 16.5' x 33' room stands at the center of the National Media Museum's exhibit, Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light. "You walk into the exhibition space and there's a static display of archived objects—including an object from one of my favorite films: The Wizard of Oz!" she says excitedly. The object is the same kind of tri-colored camera that director Victor Fleming used to shoot the original film. West continues, "The film changes from black-and-white, the only world that most people in 1939 knew, and then bam! Color! Obviously it's a dream, but I love that imaginary, playful world." As the first feature-length movie to use technicolor film, it's no surprise that West has developed a strong attachment to it. The vintage tech contextualizes her contemporary art in a way that makes all of Light Fantastic more meaningful; as the artist points out, "All of the National Media Museum's things use light to transmit images."

The blend of science, education, and art cement An Additive Mix's place as a contemplation-worthy piece, but the installation's greatest draw is its mesmerizing visuals. West herself puts it best: "It lures you in and acts like a pathway—just like the road in The Wizard of Oz."

An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light. Pictured: students from Lister Primary School.

An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light. Pictured: students from Lister Primary School.

An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light. Pictured: Liz West.

An Additive Mix by Liz West, 2015, photograph by Stephen Iles © National Media Museum/SSPL; an Additive Mix was commissioned by the National Media Museum as part of the Museum’s exhibition: Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light.

An Additive Mix will be on display as part of Light Fantastic: Adventures in the Science of Light at the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK, through November 1, 2015. See more of Liz West's work on her website.

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