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INTERVIEW: 'For All Time' artist Steven Follen

Steven Follen, the artist who has created For All Time in the Swan Theatre
Steven Follen, the artist who has created For All Time in the Swan Theatre

FOR All Time is the largest permanent site-specific artwork to be commissioned by the RSC. Herald arts caught up with its creator, Brighton based-artist Steven Follen, to find out how he made it.

Describe For All Time.

“It’s a large face that’s emerging from the wall and made up of 2,000 stainless steel stars. The idea is of lots of components making something bigger.”

How did the process of devising it begin?

“The artists that were shortlisted for the commission were given the theme of time. Greg did a beautiful audio file that he gave us full of quotes from Shakespeare. There was one quote from Romeo and Juliet, it’s sometimes referred to as Juliet’s wedding speech, that goes: ‘When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun’. “In lots of Shakespeare’s works he uses stars as defining someone’s destiny, and so I thought about that. The stars that we see are sometimes thousands of years old and already dead — so the element of time comes into that.”

How did you present your idea to the RSC?

“Five people were shortlisted after submitting their proposal and being interviewed at the RSC. So I gave an overview and an idea of what I was thinking, which included a Photoshop image of a face on the wall of the Swan. It was a general idea, very open-ended, I wasn’t sure how we were going to achieve it initially, but it’s my job to make that happen.”

Have you done anything like this before?

“I do work with components, with elements repeating and building up, but nothing as big as this before, so this is all new to me.

“My specialist area is metalwork, I did a degree in wood, metal, plastics and ceramics. I very much studied materials and their properties, so I investigate process and technique, and combine that with ideas.

“Nowadays I don’t just use hands-on craft skills, and with this I used digital technology to help make the stars. The stars are made from a series of components that are ‘photo etched’ onto sheet metal, it gives lines on the metal where I can hand fold it into a 3D shape, and then we riveted four components together to make a star. We had a big team of people doing it, all working together which was great.”

Were there any problems along the way?

“There was a head in the hands moment when we first found we couldn’t use metal-coated plastic stars because of fire regulations early in the process.

“But the design process is not linear — you can’t say this happens, then that. Part of being an artist and a designer is finding solutions. Like with the stars we had to keep the objects light as there is only so much weight the roof will support, but they had to be heavy enough that they hang down straight on the steel wires.

“We got there with quite a nice result!”

Have you had positive feedback?

“I think the RSC are happy! While the Swan Wing was being restored, there were lots of the other contractors doing flooring and painting, and stuff, and they were very positive. The main comment was: ‘How do you have so much patience?’! When we were up on the scissor lift, putting it up, we got lots of wows — which is great.”

What do you hope visitors will get from For All Time?

“In the proposal, I said I’d hoped that people would enjoy it and prompt them to think about the symbolism in Shakespeare’s work, so if it gives people a route in then that’s really good.

“Hopefully people can enjoy it for what it looks like, but also it’s technical construction. It’s sympathetic to the building — stainless steel is used in the 1930s part of the building and the stars motif has subtle connections throughout; hopefully it fits and feel part of that space.”

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