The Art of Brexit

By Carla Rapoport January 29, 2019

Could there be a more challenging brief? Lumen’s second commission partnership with the Level G public art programme at London’s Barbican was to find an artist who could illustrate life post-Brexit without stoking political fires. From a shortlist of 3 Lumen artists, the Barbican chose 2018 Moving Image finalist Nye Thompson and a new work she calls INSULAE.

The viewer of the work will, in essence, be taken on a flight low over digitally rendered waves, as the video installation contemplates the impact of island geography on national identity in a perpetually looping virtual tour of the waters just off the British mainland. With the ocean as a metaphorical buffer between the UK and the rest of the world, Nye explains, “We are taken on a lonely journey patrolling our borders.”

Being Human in a Digital Age

Using a powerful Christie Projector, the work will go live at the Barbican’s Level G on Saturday, Feb 23, where it will be projected on to the 2-story wall that faces the Barbican’s public areas, visible from 3 different levels. INSULAE follows fellow Lumen artist Rachel Ara’s installation, Trump L’Oeil which ran from May to December last year in the same spot.

Nye’s work, her most ambitious public commission to date, emerges from a practice which aims to explore what it is to be human within a digital age. “I love using technical/business software tools to make artworks, pushing
them in ways that they were never really intended for, often up to breaking point. However this piece is also something of a departure from my general trajectory – it’s slower and more lyrical. It’s also quite a
personal piece, a lament for our upcoming post-Brexit isolation,” she says.

It also fits well into the Barbican’s 2019 theme, Life Rewired, which aims to explore what it means to be human as technology changes everything. This year-long programme will include numerous films, activities and events – in addition to Nye’s commission – throughout the year.

Trigger Points

Always curious how artists come up with their ideas, I asked Nye for her inspirations. She said there were a number of triggers including the experience of sitting in the Barbican feeling hot and dehydrated and imagining water running down the walls as well as the memory of accidentally rendering a great deal of empty sea during the making of a previous video.

She reckons this work, when it opens next month, could be her most viewed to date. While she appreciates that viewers won’t have come to the Barbican expressly for that purpose, she says she’s enjoyed working within the parameters that creating art for public spaces imposes.


Her work goes live on a very busy day for the Barbican, as it will be one of the many events for Barbican OpenFest: Art 50, a day of free activities showcasing works created as part of Art 50, a collaboration between Sky Arts, the Barbican, Sage Gateshead and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts.

This hugely collaborative project has commissioned 50 artists from a variety of artistic disciplines to examine the question of what it means to be British today from the varied perspectives of people in cities, towns and rural communities across the UK. We’re proud that Nye is part of it and that Lumen could play its role in supporting her. Hats off to the Barbican for making these kind of opportunities possible.

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