Slipstream is an extraordinarily ambitious sculpture that combines precision engineering with the sense of velocity and movement of a stunt plane. The sculpture will fill the length of Terminal 2’s Covered Court, twisting across the atrium’s columns and physically integrating with the architecture. At over 70m long and weighing 77 tonnes, it will be the longest permanent sculpture in Europe, and will appear to float through the atrium as though airborne when the terminal opens in 2014. The sculpture will be positioned between two walkways within the Terminal and suspended up to 20m above the ground, creating a striking focal point for passengers.
The sculpture’s aluminium form describes the shape a stunt plane would carve through space, starting as an abstract volume before becoming recognisable at its furthermost point. Wilson’s intention is “to transpose the thrill of the air-show to the architectural environment of the international air terminal.” Project curators, Futurecity, conceived the commission on behalf of Heathrow and ran an international competition to select an artist for the project. To make Slipstream, Wilson has enlisted structural engineers Price & Myers and specialist fabricators Commercial Systems International (CSI).
The sculpture’s design uses cutting-edge computer programming technology, usually employed by the aerospace industry, to accurately translate the volume of an aircraft’s movement through space. Its form conveys both the passage of an aircraft and the circulation of people within the terminal itself. According to Wilson, Slipstream will be “a very elegant sculpture, with a streamlined, undulating surface that reflects the light in all sorts of ways. The riveted aluminium surface will highlight the contours of the piece.”
Slipstream was chosen from a short list of 5 artists by both Heathrow and independent assessments from well-known art professionals. Slipstream is designed to enhance the cultural experience of all passengers flying through the new terminal, an estimated 20 million people per year, making it one of the UK’s most viewed artworks. John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s Commercial Director, described Slipstream as “An iconic piece of art that will bring to life the glamour and excitement of air travel, at the heart of a glamorous and exciting new Heathrow”