New public art project in London will display works by Ai Weiwei and Eddie Peake on Europe’s largest billboard

New public art project in London will display works by Ai Weiwei and Eddie Peake on Europe’s largest billboard
Image of artist Ai Weiwei on Piccadilly Square's massive billboard where his work was shown throughout the month of October.
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Every evening from October 1 until the end of the year, at precisely 20:20 GMT, Europe’s largest billboard will pause its usual advertising to take a non-commercial break devoted to art. Transforming a giant 4k screen into a digital canvas, CIRCA will commission a different artist every month to create a new work that offers an exciting and new way to engage with art, both out of home, and in a safe and socially distanced way.

The first artist to fill the two-minute daily slot is Ai Weiwei, who says that CIRCA “offers a very important platform for artists to exercise their practice and reach out to a greater public”. The Chinese artist will be reflecting on this moment with a new 60-minute film that “begins from the year [he] was born through to the current unceasing pandemic threatening the human condition globally”. Weiwei’s CIRCA commission will be presented in two-minute sections every evening throughout October.

Following Ai Weiwei in November is a programme curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, director of The Showroom Gallery in Marylebone, London, who has commissioned new work from the Barcelona-based artist Daniela Ortiz and the Californian artist Cauleen Smith. Finally, British artist Eddie Peake is then scheduled for the December slot, where he will hopefully offer some spectacle in what seems to be a bleak midwinter.

CIRCA is the brainchild of the artist Josef O’Connor, who first reached out to the site owners, Landsec, by tweeting at them and proposing an art project. O’Connor initially proposed to have one-off slots but has since collaborated with the owners to evolve the idea to what it is today, with hopes of continuing the format into next year and beyond.

“We want to use this platform for a purpose,” he says. “We know we’re at a crossroads in the world today and we want to use these two minutes to pause commercialism and to make people stop, think and engage with new ideas in the public space.”

Along with the live display in Piccadilly Circus, CIRCA is also launching an online platform, CIRCA.ART, which will stream the programme in real time. This will allow participating artists to upload additional supporting content and further engage with the audience. On the website it will also be possible to buy exclusive limited-edition works made by the participating artists specifically for CIRCA which will raise funds for a range of charities supporting the UK cultural sector. For the October launch, Weiwei has created £100 prints, only available throughout the month.

O’Connor, who is responsible for the CIRCA programme, enjoys the speed with which he can curate digital works that respond to world events as they unfold. “Unlike the Fourth Plinth [in Trafalgar Square] which takes two years to sign off, we can get works confirmed and uploaded within a month, so they can be in line with the news,” he says. O’Connor adds: “CIRCA doesn’t only want to show big blue chip names, we are working with emerging artists too.”