Architecture: At last, a proper platform for contemporary art: Channel tunnel passengers will catch culture as well as trains, reports Jonathan Glancey

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The Independent Culture
PETER GREENAWAY, better known as the director of The Draughtsman's Contract and Prospero's Books, is one of four artists short-listed for the chance to create an 'interaction of art and architecture' at the new Waterloo International Terminal in London, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw.

The others are Angela Bulloch, an artist whose work will be showing at this summer's Venice Biennale; Ron Haselden, whose neon light sculpture Birdlife is a high point of the International Convention Centre, Birmingham; and Jean-Luc Vilmouth, whose work is on show at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Musee Cantini in Marseilles.

The work of one of these artists will be chosen, but if the money becomes available the others may yet be asked to contribute. The project, organised by the Public Art Commissions Agency, brought the work of more than 80 artists to the attention of European Passenger Services, the subsidiary of British Rail that will operate Channel tunnel trains from London to Paris and Brussels.

'The idea', says Vivien Lovell, director of the agency, 'is to get away from 'tokenism'. We hope the artists will respond to the building in ways other than installing conventional sculptures and paintings. Nick Grimshaw's building is one of those that doesn't need artists; it's all of a piece, a beautiful work of architectural engineering. I think the artists involved will be thinking in terms of light and sound rather than bronze and paint.'

Grimshaw is 'delighted' by the project. 'It will be seen by 15 million passengers a year and we feel that all the short-listed artists are capable of creating a work compatible with the building.'

This will be a test case in determining how successfully the work of contemporary artists can be incorporated into a building that is itself a complete work of art. In recent years much criticism has been levelled at token bronzes plonked in front of shopping malls or civic centres, and well-meant canvases and tapestries hung in the atriums of muscle-bound Post-Modern office blocks. Such works have had as much impact on modern buildings as a cavalry charge against tanks. At best they are titillating decoration, at worst, in Sir Norman Foster's phrase, 'lipstick on a gorilla'.

At Waterloo, the artists will be considering the terminal building, the Channel tunnel trains arriving and departing, and the movement of passengers under the shallow curve of Grimshaw's stirring glass and blue-steel vault. The chosen work may take the form of light or sound responding to the rhythm of passengers on the march, or some kind of light show set off by the trains themselves.

European Passenger Services and the Public Art Commissions Agency have set a precedent for artists working in Britain: no longer a polite afterthought to prettify grandiloquent architecture, artists are finally being brought into the very heart of the building design process.

(Photograph omitted)

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