2nd October 2023
MICAS Beacons, 2023 is a new ambitious site-specific triptych placed on the ancient historic battlements of La Vittoria Bastion. Standing at a height of seven and a half metres, each mast supports a pair of counter-rotating semaphoric disks, each with a diameter of nearly four metres.
These monumental and structurally complex sculptures, fabricated in stainless and galvanised steel, appear at first to be some kind of military device or early warning system, but they also express the playfulness of a child’s toy. Shawcross has visited the MICAS site over a number of years and found the island a great inspiration. With the help of the MICAS team, he determined the current site-specific and historic response of these Beacons.
Undaunted by the challenges of their location, Shawcross undertook to design these works so that they could withstand the extreme weather on the island. The three devices overlook the Marsamxett Harbour, and in keeping with their naval location and its rich maritime history, Shawcross has purposefully placed the works alongside, and in relation to, some of the remaining elements from past defensive weaponry. The artist’s fascination with movement and engineering is revealed in these ambitious works; an inbuilt mechanical system powers the counter-rotation of the semaphoric optic discs. Like a stained glass window, the disks are activated by the light of the sun and sky, which is filtered through a pattern of hundreds of thousands of non-repeating holes. The playful, bright colours use maritime flags that reveal a message through semaphoric code, which will be visible across the bay and far out at sea. Akin to coastal early warning systems, the three disks spell out the word NOW. This refers directly to the artist’s fascination with the perception of time but more specifically acts as a beacon or precursor for what is unfolding and about to happen within the new MICAS site. The show is a prelude to what is to become: directly beneath these Beacons, construction is underway to allow for the imminent opening of the MICAS galleries next autumn.
Listen to Conrad Shawcross talk about this artwork: