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‘River of Light’ shines bright in a once dark and dingy Pitt Street

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PITT Street, which runs at the side of the new Co-op Locale in Charing Cross and the newly renovated Foot Buildings, used to be a rather gloomy, if not dirty, pathway – but it is now a work of art.

The side-street has been transformed into a wave of beautifully crafted granite pavers, married with the latest in hi-tech LED lighting to regenerate the once drab walkway.

The combination of stone and light – called River of Light – sits in the same area as the refurbished His Master’s Voice sign on the side of the Foot Buildings, owned by the National Trust for Jersey.

River of Light was commissioned by the Co-op as its contribution under the Percentage for Art scheme, which encourages developers to invest in public art. The project was conceived more than five years ago by Chris Clifford, a director at CCaSM Modern and Contemporary Art, who was invited by the Co-op and architects Axis Mason to develop the piece as part of the regeneration of the Charing Cross Co-op.

The project began with an extensive period of research undertaken by Mr Clifford, who was fascinated by the history of the area and in particular the stream that once flowed through Charing Cross, which formed the focus of the artwork.

‘I wanted to make it site-specific and to see if there were any historical narratives to play with. The area is historically rich and during the research I found that the town’s historic water course, Le Grand Douet, runs directly beneath the store,’ said Mr Clifford, who worked with the architects to create the paving designed to reflect the ripples, eddies and flow of the water.

‘Before the installation, the street was a very dark, narrow and rather shabby cut-through, which suffered from a lack of direct sunlight. So we decided to visually play to that drama by selecting bands of light and dark paving stone which are both attractive and make the street feel wider,’ he added.

There are 12 bands which run the length of the street and carved within each band are historical footnotes that tell the chronological story of the religious, military, political, architectural, cultural and mercantile history and development of the town. The stream runs from north to south, with the earliest dates at the north end, up to the current and on to future dates at the south.

Embedded in the paving are low-energy LEDs, which have been used to bring the street to life after dark and to evoke the feeling of moving water flowing down the street.

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The lighting system is also programmable so that on special occasions the lights can be changed to reflect a special date or moment – for example red on Remembrance Day, patriotic colours on Liberation Day or rainbow colours for Jersey Pride events day.

‘I see the project as a time machine that captures the past, present and also reaches out into the future,’ said Mr Clifford, who chose Jersey craftspeople, including Granite Le Pelley and specialist stonemason Mark Guest, to complete the project. An outreach programme involving Rouge Bouillon Primary School children also formed part of the scheme.

‘It became important to me that the next generation of town residents were involved in the project, so I worked with the children over the course of many weeks to teach them about the history of the town. I also asked them what they would like to see in the future and those inscriptions are at the very end of the street.

‘My hope is that in time people will start to research the meanings behind the words and the interesting history of St Helier, because only by understanding the past can we improve the future.’

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Leah Bliss, of Axis Mason, was delighted with the completed project, but admitted that it had been a technical challenge to deliver Mr Clifford’s vision.

‘We selected three stone types with Granite le Pelley, who sourced numerous stone and text carving samples and, with Mark Guest, went on to realise an impossibly intricate laying pattern, with multiple falls, angled cuts and junctions. Every piece of granite was angled and cut with real precision. And the former lane turned out to be a minefield of services, both live and redundant, and so the setting out of our new slot drain had to be carefully conceived,’ she said.

The team also worked closely with the Co-op on the lighting programmes. Apart from special occasions, the everyday lighting show represents Le Grand Douet, with shades of white and blue that meander down the street.

‘This installation will enliven what was once a dark, forgotten lane,’ she added. ‘It gives a real sense of arrival to a former dark and dingy place. It’s art, but it’s robust and it’s been a pleasure to have the opportunity to push the boundaries of what a street can be.

‘It’s amazing that art and a piece of living history can manifest itself in the very fabric of our capital.’

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