Rita McBride: Arena at Irwell Sculpture Trail, Salford, UK (2002)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This announcement was previously published in Sculpture magazine in May 2003, 22(4), page 31.

Rita McBride: Arena

In summer 2002, Rita McBride installed Arena, a large-scale public artwork, on the Irwell Sculpture Trail in Salford— a city in Greater Manchester, northwest England. This functional sculpture, or “sculptural amphitheater,” which people can enter and sit on, continues McBride’s investigations into the dynamics of arena-like forms and issues concerning spectacle/spectator. This is her first work to be realized in an outdoor public space.

“I’ve been interested in the idea of who is looking at what, who is looking at whom. Are you becoming part of the artwork or are you looking at the work?” said Rita McBride. She has previously shown an indoor arena at the Witte de With contemporary art center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (1997), which has been traveling internationally, including stops in Munich, Stockholm, and Taiwan. “The original idea was to build a structure in which people sit— the indoor arena fills institutions,” says the New York-based artist.

Rita McBride considers the Salford Arena as another step in things she’s been thinking about over the past seven years. “I was very pleased to see what would happen when the work moved outside the museum. This Arena had another set of challenges. I also wanted to see what these ideas would generate outside a specifically ‘art’ context— in what is usually a difficult sphere, the public realm.”

Nearby playing fields can be seen through the wide openings of the design and also through the slats, with a play between the closure and openness of the space. Since Arena’s installation, the 22-tier sculpture has acted as a site for commissioned performances. “I am delighted that my work is being used this way,” says Rita McBride. “It will be functional as well as a piece of art.”

Arena took five years to complete. Rita McBride describes the process as very collaborative and “very” site specific. “It was a pretty interesting process in the sense that Arena was really designed by a lot of people, with their concerns about safety and graffiti, for example. It couldn’t have any hardware— anything that would hold it together could be stolen. We designed it so that there weren’t many flat surfaces, so that it couldn’t become a canvas for graffiti. I also had to chose a material that absolutely could not burn.”

The Irwell Sculpture Trail features 30 artworks along the route of the River Irwell. It is partly funded by the National Lottery, through the Arts Council of England.