In the late spring of 2006 I was appointed Artist in Residence at Kings Place, London. At that time there was, of course, no ‘Kings Place’ beyond the address, but rather a hole, men, materials and an enormous volume of earmarked space.
The idea was to follow the construction and evolution of the building on site and remotely, back in the studio. Creatively I was given a pretty free hand, the brief being not simply to record but also respond to the ideas and development of the structure. Two and a half years later and the project has drawn to its conclusion, the space has been filled and shadows are being cast. From a colossal Jocelinesque ‘pit’, through almost Norman towers of concrete jabbing into the sky and spiders webs of girders and ropes, to the final enormous waving glass facade that I can now see as I arrive at, and leave, Kings Cross.
From the start the size of the ‘hole’ drew you to it. Dug down through the earth with subterranean walls of stone and concrete holding back noisy York Way to one side and the heavy calm of the Regent Canal and Battlebridge Basin to the other. Four humongous tubular steel brackets held it open and tiny men made specialised, often puzzling, movements within it. Large masses, borne in by barge, were swung from cranes and as the towers grew the same cranes swung fragile cages holding even more fragile men higher and higher. Yellow tabards with voices from all over the world, blinked in the dark caverns grown under vast temporary platforms. And man size numbers, that could be seen across London, were stencilled from the air as the towers reached each floor level. The early feeling that I got was of an ancient and necessarily brutal procedure, in spite of the modern materials and dream. My response was initially to record what was happening in sketchbooks and in the studio, trying to get to grips with the spaces, the scales, and to order these things in my head. I quickly found, however, that certain niche, if you like, fascinations began to direct the work. The pit walls, the glow of the numbered concrete towers as they measured the night sky, or the capturing of air and space to fill with people and grow new history. Metaphorical ideas began to colour the way I regarded the physical objects, the massive collective roles of the men and the architects intentions, even my own, always uncertain, relationship with London itself.
From Sunderland and the North East, Kings Cross is my entry and departure gate for London and consequently has always played a significant role in my view of the place. The taste of ‘the smoke’ is usually laced with the Kings Cross experience. Stepping off the train in the cold early morning, hanging around waiting to leave at night and the lack of pavement space for days in between. Like any familiar urban area, the land, space and history here are dripping with imagery and suggestion. Secret fields of disused land have surrounded Kings Cross for as long as I can remember along with shop fronts, where you imagine Mr Verloc may be sitting on his stool. The improving views from the top of Kings Place as it rose reminded me why London excites me. The ‘St Pancras’ that first entered my consciousness at school via Kites death in ‘Brighton Rock’, and the array of other familiar silhouettes that always provoke a delicious, if claustrophobic, blood rush. Early in the 1800s this area was home to mountain ranges of ash heaps and horses bones that were the haunt of marauding pigs. The Russians apparently bought the ash heaps to use in the rebuilding of Moscow after Napoleon’s retreat! Earlier still in 60AD, Battle Bridge (as the Kings Cross area was known before 1830) is traditionally thought to have been the site of the final massive battle between the Roman army and Boudica’s Iceni. So much buried or lost in the earth, the air, myth and memory. All this, of course, added to the project’s attraction and while few obvious references made it through the inevitable filtering process, they were constant background accompaniments. An important part of my approach was being aware that this new space had already in the past been filled and often forgotten, leaving fragments of objects and stories at ground level but only imaginary stains in the air.
11 November 2008
read on . . .