Dramatic art installation to turn Paddington Reservoir into swimming pool

26 April 2015 - Melanie Kembrey

The deluge might have passed, but a part of Sydney will still be submerged this week. 

A dramatic new artwork will create the illusion that the historic Paddington Reservoir is once again full of water. 

The projection of a swimmer completing laps, reflective lighting and the sounds of water are set to transform the iconic space off Oxford Street for three weeks from Wednesday.

The Sydney artist and architect behind the installation, Dale Jones-Evans, said he hoped it would evoke the site's former history as well as a sense of a mysterious, underground world.

"Australia doesn't really do grottoes and in terms of a subterranean public domain the site is rather magical," he said.

Jones-Evans said it was important that art not be locked up in churches or galleries alone, with intense urbanisation compelling the creation of a "second nature”.

"Letting art lose on the norm of our public place, the arteries of where we live and move, offers further opportunity for public engagement and thought," he said.

The reservoir provided water for Sydney's rapidly expanding population from 1866 to 1899.   After stints as a storage facility, a garage and service station, and in a dangerous state of collapse, the reservoir was revamped and reopened as a sunken garden and park in 2009.

The installation, which was produced and manufactured by Axolotl Art Projects, required the trial and development of entirely new products over several months. 

Managing director Kris Torma said thousands of LEDs have been encased within layers of glass to refract and disperse the light around the site in a technique he thought that had never been used before. 

"The effect of the glass is beautiful. It is revolutionary. The LEDs aren't new, but how we have worked with them to create different effects is something that hasn't been done before," Mr Torma said. "I think it will be quite exciting. It will definitely grab people's attention as they are walking by."

The name of the art work, Top5Feet, is a playful dig at the original reservoir's limited elevation, which meant only the top five feet of water could be used to service dwellings.

The installation will be switched on each day at dusk from April 29 to May 20. It is the first project in the City of Sydney's Art and About Sydney 2015 program.