SUSAN Stockwell’s Flood is the most audacious contemporary art installation yet at York St Mary’s.

Rather than seeking to fill the church, or even its nave, she concentrates her site-specific work on where the altar once would have stood.

In doing so, she is the first artist, out of the five commissioned by the York Museums Trust so far, to respond primarily to the height of the Castlegate building.

What’s more, it looks as if Flood, her tower of computer components, has pierced the medieval roof like a rod of lightning before forming a stalactite of metal and wire.

“Originally I thought I might take he flood of computer parts out along the nave, but then I realised it would be better to have it as it is, with a sense of gravity from it pouring from the roof,” says the Manchester artist.

“I had a couple of sleepless nights about it but I decided I had to stay with what works best visually in this space. This piece is so dramatic that you don’t have to fill the church. It speaks for itself and with all the red around it, it feels powerful. Just to fill the space for the sake of filling the space would be wrong.”

The “red” that Susan mentions forms the walled backdrop to the tower, and the colour is used once more on the floor on the upper level of the church and at the far end of the medieval building. “The wall had a very neutral colour before; I didn’t want it to be white because that would be like a gallery, so I tried out lots of colours,” says Susan. “A lot of the computer wiring was red, and I felt that red thrust itself forward, and there was blood red in the stained glass window too.

“And then red has connections with the church, with the symbolism of the blood of Christ – and I also wanted to make a connection between the two ends of the church by painting walls the same colour.”

The tower itself is made of four tonnes of bags of computer parts that were delivered on palette trucks and were then sifted through by 15 volunteers, before Susan climbed aboard the scaffolding to cable-tie the components into place.

The effect has been to create a sort of tower of Babel for this age of communication, consumerism and capitalism, albeit with the messages lying dormant inside the moribund components. Nevertheless, the installation makes a connection between the powers of communication contained within the new technology and the many years of spiritual communication within the church walls.

“I decided that computer components were very important for this installation: there’s the flood of information and the flood of pollution that seeps out of this technology, and then we have the water that runs below the church, and we have the flooding that affects the city of course,” says Stockwell. “So the design relates to the church and to contemporary society too.”

The choice of position for Flood is significant too. “In a church you look towards the altar and it draws you up, and the first feeling I got when I came in was to look up. There was the feeling that the church wants you to look upwards to a higher authority,” says Susan.

“It’s interesting to be working in a deconsecrated church that felt like an empty space that used to have ritual and it was the ritual that gave it significance, but it was now empty – just like the computer components are shells too, redundant and stripped of their use.”

Susan believes York St Mary’s has an important role to play in York’s cultural life. “It’s bringing the new to the old…and a city like York would benefit from more contemporary art,” she says. It’s that outsider influence, otherwise you could be in The Truman Show when you’re in York. Tourists are just passing through, so they’re only here on the surface, but students do have an impact when they’re here and so do artists.”

• Susan Stockwell’s Flood will be on show at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, until October 31, open daily 10am to 4pm; admission free.

Did you know?
The four tonnes of computer power supplies sourced from Secure IT Recycling (SITR) in Cheshire for Flood will be returned there for recycling in November.

Did you know too?
Susan Stockwell’s past works of art made from everyday items include Memory Stack, which utilised circuit boards in Taiwan; Paper Tiger, a large paper dress in London; and Tea World, a map of the world painted with tea on teabag paper in the USA.