I was commissioned to create a large-scale public artwork to be sited in Greenwich (London, UK) exploring the relationship between the city and the river. The finished piece took the form of an illustration, drawing from the past but looking to the future, imagining how we might one day live in the city.
The commission entailed a long period of research, sometimes undertaken alone and sometimes with groups of local residents. Some of this was factual and some was based around memory or imagination - what have our experiences of London been like? What do we want the city to be in future?
During initial research I came across The River's Tale, a poem by Rudyard Kipling written as the introduction for a school history book. I am no fan of Kipling, and the poem attempts to site the Thames at the centre of a glorified notion of British empire. It begins with a brief few lines ending "...This is the tale that river told." I wondered what tale the river would in fact tell, from before the time of Kipling to the present. The Thames has long been the route via which people, goods, ideas, cultures, technologies and more have entered London, and made it the thing it is today.
Wishing to rewrite this tale, in collaboration with communities who live near the river and who are the descendants of that history, I created an artwork that resembles a giant encyclopedia. In it, jumbled, sit the ingredients for a city, with specific historical reference to London and the local Greenwich area - the good and the bad, and everything in between. What are the elements that make the city, its past, present and future? What story do they tell?
The design references different printing techniques, many of which were developed on either side of the Thames a short distance from where the artwork is sited. The overall uninterrupted shape is drawn from continuous roll paper; the river shapes from block techniques; and the illustration colour blocking from litho offset CMYK patterns - all invented nearby.
I curated a series of workshops, talks, screenings and public events as part of the commission. The broad aim was to use the River Thames as a springboard for thought and discussion about the nature of London as a city - what forces have shaped it? - and to consider how we might like it to be in the future. More detail here.