I applied for a job to run the bookshop and ended up making a book instead Having stumbled out of university two months earlier with a degree in fashion communication and a self-published magazine, this was a commission based on little more than inspiration and good faith and one that I soon learnt was entirely in keeping with The Wapping Project’s unconventional and anarchic style. “Do you want to make a book?” Jules Wright asked. I said yes instinctively and Jules invited me to start that day; pointing me in the direction of their vast archive stored in the office under the water tanks. I leafed through boxes, portfolios and folders that contained documentation of everything The Wapping Project - and Women’s Playhouse Trust before it - have produced since the early Nineties. Press clippings and photographs; programmes and postcards; pages and pages of essays and all manner of ephemera pertaining to three decades worth of prolific creative output. I wondered how I could even begin to process and present this information in any sort of cohesive form, written or visual; or how I could begin to do it justice. The key, I soon realised, was to speak to people. To the legions of artists and ardent supporters of The Wapping Project who have helped make and sustain its artistic legacy. By doing this, my route through became clearer. Many sentiments were shared amongst those I spoke to, which helped me to hone my picture of Wapping and Jules Wright’s work. But, paradoxically, they also gave the impression that there is no such thing as prescription when it comes to Wapping: no criteria to fill or boxes to tick, but rather that ideas are the currency and, trite as it sounds, anything is possible. This in itself was liberating and allowed me to construct an almost-chronological, free-flowing narrative where insights and ideas could percolate through naturally. So the trajectory of this book became less about categories and convention and more about conveying the spirit and verve that was expressed to me in conversation. People were effusive and passionate in speaking about The Wapping Project. I was shown a great amount of generosity of time and spirit and I am in no doubt that this was a direct response, a testament, to Jules Wright and Wapping itself. The narrative that has evolved from this process is a collection of oral histories. Having grown up in an era when Wikipedia is simply a reflex, an extension of
Imogen Eveson October 2011
the index finger, it was at times a surreal feeling to be working on something that couldn’t be referenced against the Internet. Some of these oral histories no doubt stem from memories that have morphed or conflated over the years, adding to the mythology that surrounds Wapping. So many times was I told that shows were “freezing because it was the middle of winter” that it left a romantic impression of a perennial December. I wondered whether this idea had supplanted itself in people’s minds surreptitiously; whether the cold, dark properties of the Boiler House wreaked havoc with recollections. Then there is a dispute at the crux of the power station: were the 186 miles worth of underground pipes that spread west from Wapping bought by (now-defunct) Mercury Communications, in order to run its telecoms cables through them? This was Jane Prophet’s understanding when dreaming up Conductor in 2000 and while some are adamant it’s true, others beg to differ. If this was working on the premise of ‘found voices’, then ‘found imagery’ played a big part in the design of the book. In other aspects I have responded graphically to the building: in interpreting the various shades of rust and paint found in the Engine Room and in choosing typefaces that reflect the slick minimalism of zinc or an industrial imprint; in terms of size and space on the page; in animating words so as to give them, like machines, a sense of weight and momentum. I wanted to create something beautiful that, like The Wapping Project itself, feels freewheeling, surprising and unbridled but yet has a strong, directional undercurrent running throughout. A few people have questioned whether committing The Wapping Project to paper is at odds with the transient nature of the place. Perhaps. And you can avert your eyes now if you’d rather store Wapping as a mystery in your mind. However I did not set out to make an exhaustive catalogue; the history of The Wapping Project has such depth and breadth and its network is so far-reaching that attempts to do so would be both highly quixotic and physically unwieldy. What’s more, new memories are being made every day. Instead, The Wapping Project on Paper is impressionistic: an evocation, a compendium of sorts. And if I have gone any way towards capturing the intangible spirit of The Wapping Project then I feel I have succeeded.
Hydraulic power was “really established at about the same time as electricity so from its early life it was fighting a losing battle,” says Kerr. As electricity became cheaper and electronically powered equipment increasingly sophisticated, so industry and private citizens began to forsake hydraulic power. “After the terrible smogs of the early 1950s and the passing of the Clean Air Acts,” wrote Smith, “the steam pumping plant at Wapping was removed and substituted with electrically driven three-throw ram pumps. The steam turbine had been stopped in May 1952, while pumping by steam ceased in September 1956. Electricity was now only slightly more expensive than coal, but savings were made on wage bills and maintenance costs making the overall cost of pumping by electricity less; when pumping ceased in 1977 only thirteen men worked at the station.” Progressive closure of the docks and railway goods stations in the late 1960s and early 1970s reduced demand for hydraulic power to an uneconomical level. For about a year Wapping was kept in operation to supply Tower Bridge during its conversion from hydraulic to electric operation. When it finally closed in July 1977, it was the last of its kind not only in London, but in the world. It was swiftly designated a Grade II* listed building and left unused and frozen in time: handed back to nature and the mercy of the elements. At the same time, Wapping itself was now desolate. For nearly two centuries, the Port of London was the busiest in the world and through it flowed all the riches of the British Empire. The community of Wapping – ostensibly an island, isolated by the river and the Ratcliffe Highway – was right at its heart. The Second World War and the unforeseen closure of the docks caused irrevocable damage and Wapping’s landscape was forever changed.
The Eighties heralded a new era for the station and another portent of what would come in later years. Video-makers saw its dramatic potential, even if the artistic outcome left a lot to be desired. “As the years went by we used to get lots of film crews down and that was all very exciting”, Donnachie recalls. There was his mother’s favourite, Big Country, as well as Emerson, Lake and Palmer (“my dad’s in that one!”). Donnachie’s personal highlight was “racy” dance troupe Hot Gossip’s descent upon the power station to shoot a video for Tell Everybody. Cue highoctane kitsch and enough fake cobwebbery and smoke to render the Engine Room unrecognisable, but it made for a memorable afternoon for a teenaged Donnachie: “my brother and I got a few of the girls to come in. We made them tea and crumpets. They were considered very hot girls at the time and they sat in our sitting room moaning about Arlene Phillips who was out in her trailer.” In 1987 solid plans were afoot to turn the power station into the official home of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. A glossy proposal was published and a TV documentary saw Sir Neville Marriner drawing metaphorical links between the station and the orchestra. These plans never came into fruition, the ambitious project ultimately beyond the reach of the Academy.
For the relative degree of flux happening within the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station after its closure, it existed in a larger topography of change. Wapping today is settled and domestic but amidst the desolation during the late Seventies and Eighties - after the docks had shuddered to a halt - it saw a new wave of activity. Artists of all persuasions occupied disused warehouses along the river, creating a proliferation of studios, exhibitions, new businesses and an accidental legacy of their own. Kevin Jackson is a fine artist who was based in a studio in the New Crane Wharf between ’77 and ’83. He paints and honest and picaresque picture of his time there. …
“There was something quite sad about Wapping [in 1990]. It just seemed really abandoned and quiet: you can imagine it being this really bustling and active place when it was industrial and then there had been a period preceding the gentrification and the whole warehouse boom where there were a lot of artists and creative people squatting and occupying buildings. So even though it wasn’t actively loud in terms of the way it would have been when it was industrial, it had a vibrancy, which all the property developers wiped out. They cleared everybody out. When it became this district with fancy, luxury apartments, everyone had underground parking so there was no sense of activity on the streets. I felt like Wapping had the heart ripped out of it, in the sense that all these artists had been thrown out who were potentially adding to its sense of place or community.” Anya Gallaccio
“My first impressions are recorded on a film that I made that day,” says Jules Wright. “You hear me say very quietly, ‘I’m going to have this building.’ It was so unbelievable that I thought, ‘how can this still exist in London? Something of this scale?’ The area was being redeveloped and this building was absolutely in its former state. It was derelict, and it was extraordinary. It was covered in moss; the weather had been coming in; there were metal cups with fungi growing out of them. It was astonishing. However it was also extraordinarily beautiful and my heart was thumping when I saw it. I knew immediately I could use it and make amazing stuff in it. Your imagination starts to roll instantly as it still does when you walk in this building, I think.” “It was like the workmen had just walked out in 1977, turned the key and nothing had changed,” says President of WPT Janie Rayne, who was also present that day. “There were cigarette butts, notes for the next day’s work, cobwebs everywhere. It had the most amazing atmosphere.” As an architectural historian, Joe Kerr has a very attuned sensibility for architecture. “I’m passionate about buildings,” he says “and there aren’t that many that you just walk into and you just utterly and totally fall in love with. And I fell in love with the Hydraulic Power Station the very second I saw it and even more so when I walked inside. And there’s an even smaller number of buildings where you still get that sensation every time you go there.” Jules Wright and Janie Rayne were location scouting for a Womens Playhouse Trust production, an operatic adaptation of Federico García Lorca’s, Blood Wedding. With an orchestra too big to fit into their usual venue, The Royal Court Theatre, Wright devised to build her own opera house. She contacted LDDC to see if they had anything suitable and they set about volunteering various disused sites in their possession. Ultimately they opted for a building south of the river, an old dog biscuit factory on Jacob Street, but the building at Wapping they were shown that day had got under Wright’s skin.
The Womens Playhouse Trust (WPT) was set up as a charitable trust in 1981 by Jules Wright, Rosemary Squire and Sue Parrish to provide opportunities for women in the theatre. “It was very significant politically,” Wright, who was working as a Deputy Artistic Director at the Royal Court, acknowledges. “And it only ever did major work.” She was the second woman to direct at the venerated Sloane Square venue. “WPT was really about promoting women in the theatre and it made a huge difference,” Janie Rayne says. “In the early days there were virtually no women in the theatre, it was so male dominated. And it wasn’t a feminist group at all - it was about being fair because women were finding it really hard to get a life in the theatre, especially writers. The main objective was to commission women writers. And because Jules had such fantastic taste, probably every woman writer in England sent her scripts and she chose very well; wonderful women writers, and launched their careers. Lighting designers, directors, set designers, production managers too; it extended right through. She commissioned them and she raised the money to commission them.”
In 2011, The Royal Court Theatre won Stage’s inaugural award for London Theatre of the Year; cited as a new writing powerhouse and commended for its Young Writers Programme. In 1984, WPT staged their first theatrical performance there: The Lucky Chance, by Aphra Behn, and Rosemary Squire remembers a host of participants whose careers she has traced ever since: from actress Harriet Walter to choreographer Jackie Lansley and composer Ilona Seckaz. Squire herself, who co-founded WPT and assumed the role of general manager and producer, would go on to co-found the Ambassadors Theatre Group (ATG) with Howard Panter in 1992; now the UK’s largest theatre owner and operator and an internationally recognised theatre producer. Toni Racklin met Wright in 1984 at The Hammersmith Lyric where she was working as a Press Officer and Wright, a Director. She helped launch WPT with The Lucky Chance, and remembers it as “a fantastic show that Jules directed. And it was a very significant movement, that women should take centre-stage more, that we should redress the balance.” Racklin is Head of Theatre at the Barbican. “In my work now I am very conscious of making sure that women are properly represented in the programme. It’s easy to overlook the balance when you are putting a whole programme together, but we need to be sure that women choreographers, women directors, women playwrights, companies that are run by women are all properly represented here. And that has come about because of my involvement with WPT and the education that I gained through them. Working with Jules, Rosemary and Sue was very important for me; very formative. And those relationships have continued, which is significant too.” Rosemary Squire shares a similar sentiment. “The whole ethos of ‘smashing through the glass ceiling’ if you like has absolutely carried on to what I do here [at ATG]. Our company does have many more senior women in the organisation and it’s okay to try and combine a family with work: a lot of people work part time, job share or work from home, which our company has perhaps done ahead of time.” Janie recalls the success of The Lucky Chance, after which she joined the board and became involved with many plays herself. “I just had such admiration for Jules and her energy and enthusiasm and her artistic taste.” Rayne’s memories are all in pictures, she says, “I remember the visual journey with Jules: from that tiny little attic on Carnaby Street, through board meetings, openings, all those wonderful productions and just a huge amount of energy.” Productions such as Aphra Behn’s Rover in 1994 play in Rayne’s memory: particularly the deployment of actors to bicycles to cover the vast (industrial) ground and the fact that those actors included a then-lesser-known Daniel Craig and Andy Serkis. “Jules is a brilliant director. As an actress I admired that enormously. But I know it was always Jules’s dream for the WPT to have their own theatre.” Throughout the rest of the decade WPT was responsible for commissioning many more theatre productions as well as a stream of exhibitions in the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station that covered all aspects of art. Today, WPT’s role is as much about being an enabler, catalyst, advocate and risk-taker as ever, which it does through its work at the Wapping Project ------ how would you describe WPT’s activity and role today and over the
For Acoustic Shadows , Duncan MacAskill adopted a holistic method to creating a show and made all work onsite over a period of a month before it opened. He responded intuitively and uniquely to each room and to every nuance within the space. This way of interpreting the building – an absolute contrast to Anya Gallaccio’s bold statement - set a precedent for subsequent shows. Together in the space of a year, the two (dichotomous) exhibitions demonstrated concisely the building’s potential as a unique stage for contemporary art. MacAskill produced large-scale canvasses and climbable paintings; sound environments and a wall of interactive mail art. In the Boiler House he supplanted a tree, which to his great delight was nested in by an errant pigeon that had flown in through the absent roof. He even enlisted an opera singer to wander the floor, bursting into song at whim and challenging the difficult acoustic of the building (the idea of which lent the show its name). The resultant effect was a landscape of the mind, a Tarkovsky film that let visitors discover the artwork in an experiential way as they explored the building. When MacAskill (almost literally) moved in and infiltrated the space, it was dank, damp, decaying and dripping. “It was very unsophisticated and raw and brilliant for that with big, big doors and all the machinery.” Come sun down, there would be just one power source that he used to light up his appropriated studio. He describes a twilight zone. “It was spooky, working away there, being in an empty building that was full of ghosts. You could hear the furnaces roaring and people working. When I worked there during the night I was shit scared by people coming in the building. Usually they were security people and I had to try and explain myself because they didn’t recognise what I was doing as art. You couldn’t help but be impressed by the sculptural objects that were there,” he continues. “Not intimidated but you felt you had to have a loyalty to the integrity of the past.” What MacAskill faced was “a nice dilemma of how to show the work and how to use the building,” (the same dilemma that many artists to follow would encounter.) He decided to be very “simpatico” to it, surrendering (almost) to its undeniable dominance. “Maybe I was too sympathetic to the building and I allowed it to dominated the art in a way…” MacAskill ponders for a moment. “Other people took one thing and made an enormous spectacle of it. That wasn’t my way. I had to embrace, to have a love affair with the building. And of course you can never have a one-way love affair; it has to be two-ways.” The whole show was linked, inherently, to the idea of decay and nature. “It was always about seeing nature as repetition
and how it repeated itself in lots of different ways. Just like the leaf and the way the vein is just like a hand, and the roots of a tree are just like the lungs of a body and they perform the same function.” MacAskill is known for his tradition of Mail Art and in the Engine Room a framework was erected to take 1000 postcards made individually in response to Wapping. Viewers could buy these original artworks for four pounds each and select where on the frame they should be hung to make a larger picture for the duration of the exhibition and until posted to them by MacAskill himself. The many facets of the show include scraped ‘Field’ paintings, abstract ‘DNA’ paintings, and an interactive, climbable ‘hole’ painting. Then there was the Wapping Wall; a floor-toceiling structure of found and painted wood, flanked by ten smaller paintings on the surrounding walls. On the opposite side of the corridor, a dank floor was fitted with small, interlocking canvasses and dusted with chalk so that human footfall helped comprise the picture, as did water, perpetually dripping from the ceiling. Two out-of-use sinks were filled with a mound of sawdust and oranges, respectively, and left to decay, like the peeling walls that enclosed them. Sound environments – noises, snatches of song – created in the building by MacAskill and recorded with composer Glyn Perrin, resounded round the room. “I don’t know if you get it so much now but there was this reverb, the echo in the building,” says MacAskill, on acoustics. “If people stood a certain distance apart you couldn’t hear each other because the reverb was banging off each surface. So I made this sound environment of using all of the echo and I used that in one of the rooms and then I had an opera singing going about all the rooms and singing.” The name Acoustic Shadows was a term MacAskill thought up, he says. “When I looked it up and found out that an acoustic shadow is the acoustic bit that cannot be heard in a submarine. My grandfather, who I was named after, was in the merchant navy, bringing back materials to Britain during the war. He was torpedoed and killed by U-Boats.”So the name, it transpires had a double-resonance: a small act of synchronicity. MacAskill expresses his gratitude for being given the chance to produce Acoustic Shadows. “When we did it we were still pioneering the way, that market where people would come to old buildings to see art. So I was always very grateful for Jules for giving me that opportunity, because I learnt a lot.” And as for the building now, fourteen years on, “I don’t think I ever fell out of love with it. Maybe that was the thing… maybe it was one-sided!” …
VHS still from Josh Wrightâ€™s tour of Wapping Power Station 1998
Jane Prophet’s Conductor heralded the launch of The Wapping Project in October 2000. Ian James was the project manager at the time, having worked alongside Jules and Josh Wright since Intensities and Surfaces in 1997: “Very few people that will see anything like that again,” he reflects. It was an emotionally and physically exhausting process that led to that point, he recalls, which left little room for forward planning. “When creating something on that scale, you get so caught up in the detail of it you can’t actually see much further beyond the actual opening. I don’t think any of us actually thought about what happens on the day after.” The day after, they simply got back to work and embarked on a new chapter. With no public funding and the restaurant as its lifeblood, narratives began to evolve in the building under Jules Wright’s direction and over the last ten years have embodied all manner of visual and performance art. The majority of shows at The Wapping Project have consisted of new work made in response to the building itself. These sculpted, site-specific pieces are the most successful, Jules considers, and are what this section, Evolution, will focus on primarily. There are many elements that feed into complex web that is Wapping. There is Wright as a judicious commissioner, inviting artists of all disciplines to respond to the space. There is a Wright as curator and theatre director, rendering these artworks and the space itself into highly-charged productions that transcend brick, mortar and canvas. There are the themes that recur and percolate throughout everything that happens. Themes (tangible or otherwise) pertaining to the building are reinterpreted over again as artists seek their own way to negotiate its scale and idiosyncrasies. “Everyone responds to this building in some way,” Wright says. “This building is still disclosed to me by other people because they experience and place it and confront it in different ways.” It is disclosed by artists new and established through dance, photography, painting, sculpture and sound. Sometimes all at once. The Wapping Project is a mercurial mesh of ideas in constant transition and, as Ian helps to demystify, “Jules is the common thread. She’s like the piece of wool that you have to pull to unravel all these different strands. And there are probably a few hundred.” Ask Wright if the breakdown of these details is important, however, and the answer is no. “I don’t see any separation, I don’t see boundaries here.” Between shows, disciplines, and the building itself. Ultimately, the crux of The Wapping Project is the telling of stories: the constructing of a narrative, the resolution of a vision, connecting with people through whichever means necessary. There are untold amounts of stories to be told. Stories are made through painting a landscape in the mind. Physically, the building is a landscape: its warren of spaces connect and relate to each other and every inch can be used at any time.
(The Engine Room and Turbine House boast original machinery and an evolving showcase of contemporary furniture design. The Link Hallway takes you through a tarnished zinc door that opens up into the expanse of the Boiler House: four pillars support the weight of the water tanks above. This space is entirely the same proportions as the Engine Room, lending a sense of great harmony and balance. The Coal Store is a dark space; the Filter House lighter, both are used as additional exhibiting space. There are the water tanks above and the kitchen below. An office occupies a mezzanine level and an external stairwell splices them all. The ground extends to the Accumulator Tower and the bookshop; housed in a glasshouse.) There are no rules, no signs prescribing a route and the visitor makes their own journey through the building. This landscape acts as a stage, a scene-setter and a prop for action. It can be manipulated and transformed and constantly reinvented, opening up landscapes in your own mind. Facts are stated (a dress, a boat, an expanse of water) in a way that is cool, calm, Brechtian. The experience does not milk emotions or try to induce catharsis, but rather allows the imagination to take over and create its own narrative or connect to personal memories. “If you paint a powerful enough image, it doesn’t matter that what you feel about it is different from what I feel about it but it still is painting a landscape in one’s mind,” Wright points out. It is this sense of freedom, breathing space and room for interpretation that leads people to connect The Wapping Project to it their own personal iconography and take ownership of the building, as they do invariably. “Immediately people know there aren’t any rules,” Wright considers. “They know that they can walk through any door, that they can go up to the roof, that they can come through the back door, they can come through the front door. I think they make their own narrative within the building and I think that’s how they make ownership. So one person might describe the building very differently from another.” The Wapping Project operates on many levels: tangible, psychological and indecipherably alchemic. They all keep suspended the tension and dynamism that is apparent on entering the space. They are truly interconnected and to (attempt to) compartmentalise each thread would feel anathema to Wapping. Instead, the following pages lightly trace the ideas that have ebbed and flowed at The Wapping Project over the last ten years through seminal shows and inspired tangents. The spectacular scenes the building has staged are indulged deservedly and punctuated with the thoughts of those who created and experienced them. The following pages demonstrate the uniquely rich and multifaceted nature of The Wapping Project and prove that the energy that once was integral to the building has not been misplaced.
transprefix 1 across; beyond : transcontinental | transgress. • on or to the other side of : transatlantic | transalpine. Often contrasted with cis- . 2 through : transonic. • into another state or place : transform | translate. • surpassing; transcending : transfinite. Butterfly, a seminal moment both in the career of sculptor Richard Wilson and in the life of The Wapping Project, was based on the simplest of premises: “take an object, crush it, unfurl it”. The unfurling of a scrapped Cessna between the four pillars of the Boiler House took place over three and a half weeks in 2004 and was witnessed not only by visitors to The Wapping Project but by two cameras installed in the ceiling which captured the progression of the intervention. When the form of the plane was recovered it was cut from its strings and abandoned as a husk in the dark of the space. A time-lapse film was stitched together, a screen suspended overnight and the exhibition played out in a final burst of colour and movement. Plans to stage Irons in the Fire, a touring exhibition of Wilson’s drawings and maquettes, were in motion at Wapping when Jules asked for an original installation to run concurrently. When Wright first invited Wilson to have a look at the space in light of this prospect, two things were happening in his world. “One, I was beginning to move away from the formalism of my work; being known as a site-specific artist, and beginning to get more involved in the context of the work, i.e. historic or social, reasons for why a building was there, a reason for why a building might be derelict and then become used again, or being used and then going to dereliction. The other thing was that I’ve been making sculptures for about forty years - I know when I’m repeating myself and I hate the idea of that. So I was looking to stop doing the party pieces and really think about coming up with a new idea, which was about going back to first principles, to try and get back to the purest act of creating something.” For many people Butterfly remains their most memorable experience of The Wapping Project. For Marta Michalowska it was “one of the most memorable art works” she had ever seen. “I had not been before to a gallery where I could experience the work with such intimacy, in complete solitude.” So ingrained is Butterfly in Wapping’s memory, it is intriguing to learn that its impetus was a complete accident. “I’d washed a fiver in a pair of jeans and I put them on one morning and I pulled the fiver out
and thought ‘oh shit!’ And I started to do this - find the corner - I didn’t want to lose the fiver, and I realised that this is the idea, this is the basic principle of creativity. I’m unfurling a washed fiver, I’m unfurling a stiff ball of paper that has a value and I don’t want to tear it because it will lose that value. So I’ve got to be creative and I’ve got to think about where the corners are what’s that loose bit and do I soak it again?” It was at that point that Wilson scribbled his “take an object…” note in a sketchpad. “And that’s the piece,” he says. “Simple.” From this point onwards, Wilson started to really consider the space at The Wapping Project. “I started thinking about the notions of hydraulics and pumping and pushing and pulling and I always was fascinated by the four columns in there and I started to think of Samson, the pushing out and the pulling in and bringing the towers down, bringing the temple down. So what that meant was that I had to start thinking about an object and because of the height of the space, the rather gloominess of the space, I thought about an airplane, and I thought that’s an easy thing to crush.” Photojournalist and flying-enthusiast Peter Marlow helped Wilson source the plane, which was then transported in parts to University of East London, where Wilson had been offered a residency. “We had a team of students working regularly to strip off all the paint and we polished it so it was absolutely perfect.” The space, Wilson notes, dictated details even before the plane reached its final destination. “I thought there’s a rugged space down there, I’ll polish the airplane. When I bought it, it was really knackered and by taking all the paint off and buffering it I had this glistening thing - I refer to it as a husk. So I had this very raw space, but a very precious thing that we were working with. The backdrop really supported the work and dictated in part the aesthetic.” The pristine husk was then scrapped. “I put it in the car park one weekend and invited forklift truck drivers to just mash the thing but it took forever. I hadn’t realised how resistant it …
in to push it all out and we recovered the void within the airplane and although it was completely beaten up and crooked, it was there.” During this period visitors were coming in and witnessing the plane being recovered; hearing the team’s discussions and seeing them clamber around the building. It was also being witnessed by two cameras supplanted in the ceiling, one of which was taking a snapshot of movement and the other a still frame, every five minutes for 24 hours. It was only when Wilson saw the amassed imagery at the end – some 7,000 images – that he saw the potential for the next leg of the flight. “So what transpired is after the three and a half weeks of doing this process and the thing manoeuvring itself and me wondering what the hell to do at the end - was it enough just to leave it there? - I realised that in actual fact, the piece of work was a film. Here we are, taking an object and we’ve compressed it and we’re pulling it back out, but what we’ve got up in the ceiling is a compression of time. The day that the plane was clipped from its tethers (“I just cut everything, and it landed on the floor, mangled, with one wing up in the air, it broke its back and everything”) a screen was hoisted so as to float in space like the plane itself had done. “The next morning we banged the film on so when people came back to see what the airplane was doing they didn’t see it; all they could see was behind the screen, as it floated, there was a tiny bit of the wing showing, I put a little spotlight on it, so you went down into the gloom and saw this wonderful film with all these moments of sound, and behind the screen was the butterfly… the airplane which had been swatted like a gnat was laying there but had given birth to the film, hence Butterfly, the metamorphosis.” Butterfly received excellent reviews and Wilson remembers one in particular from Richard Dormant, who had recently experienced the death of his father. “He wrote a very moving piece, about death really, but with the metaphor of things never really dying.” Wilson considers the trajectory of transformation from one stage to another. “The husk morphed into something which is more permanent than the airplane; the film then goes into people’s heads and goes on as another idea. It’s part of the history of the space, the memory of the space.”
was going to be. I managed to crush the airplane, folded it all up into a ball and brought it here.” And so it was suspended in the Boiler House, bursting with potential energy. “We had the private view with this ball hanging there. No one could guess what it was, which is quite unusual.” Neither Wilson nor his cohort of students was versed in the conventions of unfurling. “No one was trained to do what we were doing. We had an ulterior aim, we had to try and recapture the form of the airplane so we knew what our task was, we were familiar with the equipment we got hold of but it meant we were all clambering around the room, we’d have to put towels up there and straps up there, and bring it down there and someone would start pulling, then the whole plane would go so we’d put two lines off that way…” Stephen Morgan and friend had been drafted in to hang Irons in the Fire, and were quite literally roped in to help suspend the plane. “I had four tracksuit bottoms on, there was no heating and it was absolutely freezing. We were trying to get it right in the middle between the four pillars, but getting it up - it’s a heavy plane - Jules walks in and I’m flying up, hanging off it, you think you must be insane!” “I’d found in a car boot sale many years ago a wonderful book about how to straighten cars or vehicles that had been in a crash and there was a set of photographs that inspired me.” By way of preparation, Wilson “reached for that book” when he started that project. “Things lurk in the subconscious.” Richard describes the action that followed and every verb is accentuated and animated with a physical gesture that betrays the innate sculptor in him. “Over a period of about five and a half weeks, what we started doing was putting these two-tonne ratchet straps on to parts of the airplane and parts of the building; bits of tubing, the columns, and ratcheting and pulling bits out, once we’ve got bits out I was coring in, drilling holes about yay-big, and putting hydraulic expansioning pliers, pliers that worked to push out, rams basically, placing them inside and pumping so we were pushing the thing out again so what happened is at the end of three and a half weeks, this thing was sort of moving in the space, and being stropped, and as the wing came out we’d get underneath and tip it back, maneouver the thing in the space, fill it full of holes just to slide these rams
From The Independent 2006
Miedzy Nami Miedzy Nami is a tiny café in Warsaw that not only incorporates an art gallery, but is a creative hub and network that publishes books and extends far beyond its modest proportions. They have published many books to accompany Wapping Project shows, including Gdansk, Free and Framed and ---another example? It is a relationship born of synchronicity: “They found us. They walked in one night…,’ says Jules. The founders [names?] were writing a series of magazines about cities and were working in London when someone suggested they visit The Wapping Project. “So they booked a table for dinner. They walked in and Deborah Turbeville was on – and I had their books as they had published Deborah in Warsaw. And that’s us, how we met. We became friends and they published things for me and we showed things there. It’s tiny, Miedzy Nami, the café, but the two women are absolutely astonishing. We sustain a relationship.” Deborah Turbeville’s work was introduced to Jules Wright by Thomas Zanon-Larcher who had spotted the resonances between their aesthetic sensibilites. “I saw Deborah’s work and I thought ‘wow’,” Jules remembers. “And then I pursued her and did that show, which together we staged.” The show saw the backspace of The Wapping Project transformed into Turbeville’s studio: huge prints arranged crudely, clipped up on to the walls very roughly. “And that was also experiential,” Jules recalls. “If it had been done anywhere else everything would have been the same size, it would have all been neat little photographs of Deborah Turbeville’s work sitting on the wall.” It transpired to be a perfect alchemy of style and approach, which Turbeville herself remembers vividly. …
THE BOOKSHOP (LIFE IN A GLASSHOUSE)
Personal iconography In 2007 the glass house sat in the depths of the Boiler House, focal points in the shows Yellow Since 1877 and Gdansk. Shortly after, it was spirited into the garden: yellow umbrellas still nesting in the Sycamore Tree beside it. Once upon a time there was to be a shop installed in the base of the Accumulator Tower: now this tower hosts an evolution of exhibitions curated by Christian Ferreira and instead the shop lies at an adjacent but jaunty angle in the grounds; in the glass house. Jules saw the potential for this to be a particularly evocative addition and describes the sense of personal iconography that people develop in relation to glasshouses and other Wapping leitmotifs. “Glass houses are interesting,” she thinks. “They are strange and disturbing but kind of magical things. I don’t know why but there are certain objects that are very powerful and have a certain potency. Chairs have a potency. Umbrellas are powerful too. You can create a funeral with a black umbrella and someone in black, just standing.” “It’s about finding potency,” she continues, “and when this building works well, it’s containing an intensity that grows out of the potency.” And more often than not that potency is inextricably tied up with our childhood memories. Certainly Jules drew upon hers when dreaming up the typically offbeat concept for the new bookshop. To announce its launch in 2008, she wrote: “As an only child I lived in my books and still have every one of them. I also ran a shop in a disused hen-house at the bottom of our ramshackle back yard where I sold jars of soapy water to myself and imagined who I would be. Now I’ve made a tiny glass bookshop with a coal fire, selling the most beautiful books, where everyone can browse and imagine who they might become, while others watch them through the glass and imagine who they are.” The journalist Lydia Fulton was first at its helm; corralling both books and people for two years before she left to become a mother to Baby Claude. During her spell there she invited all manner of writers and speakers to squeeze in amongst the books including award-winning poets and writers such as Christopher Reid and Jo Shapcott and photographer Tim Walker. Fashion journalist and author Iain R Webb was asked to read from his book, Foale and Tuffin: The Sixties, A Decade In Fashion, in December 2010. He recounts his own tale: “When book mistress Lydia Fulton asked me if I’d like to do a talk in her wonderful greenhouse I jumped at the opportunity. I have always found the bleak industrial-meetsgothic atmosphere of the Wapping Project inspiring and love the kooky greenhouse bookshop. And so, one dark December evening… the weather was terrible and there was a tube strike, so with traffic at a stand still I made my way along Wapping Wall on foot, battling wind and rain. As I passed Fortress Wapping I was reminded of a past life as fashion editor at The Times. The expeditionary experience also took me back to when I was an art student up from the provinces and had, for the first time, schlepped The King’s Road (from Sloane Square tube) in search of SEX, Westwood and McLaren’s legendary boutique. I trudged and trudged and trudged (how long was the Kings Road?!!) and at one point almost gave up before eventually turning the corner at World’s End to discover nirvana! So it was with Lydia’s greenhouse, glowing in the dampened grounds of the disused power station. Inside I soon forgot the hardships of my journey as I sat by the stove to tell my story. Lydia, looking like a futuristic heroine from a historical novel yet to be written, was the perfect hostess, charming and excitable in just the right measures. The intimate space was made more so by the raggletaggle students sitting cross-legged on beanbags and old college
contemporaries bunched together on a garden bench. The experience was a bizarre cocktail of unpretentious homeliness, a soupçon of surreal and a pinch of rock’n’roll attitude. Ultimately the evening proved intensely inviting for everyone involved. It is something I will always cherish. Nirvana indeed.” “It was not long after Lydia Fulton had started the Wapping Bookshop readings that I began to attend those memorable nights,” recounts author Sarah Winman who read there herself in 2011. “It became very much a ritual for me; a haven, in fact, where I was struck by the unbeatable intimacy of the occasion, the desire to sit – often, uncomfortably so – quite simply to consume an author’s voice, the wise words, a balm to take away with you. Although it was unspoken, my desire to read at the bookshop, if ever I was published, was strong. So when I learnt that my book had sold and my publishers asked if there was anywhere in particular I would like to give a reading, only one place came to mind. And I too came to sit in a small glasshouse in the grounds of a once-used power station, on a chair by a stove, looking out at 10 expectant faces. It is a unique and special place – especially during the change seasons when the light lengthens gloriously and we are surrounded by propitious twilight, or when night, too early, encroaches and the glasshouse lays witness to a sleepy dusk. Smells of wood smoke nestling down with us, the listeners, waiting for a good tale. But, of course, the bookshop is a natural extension of the Wapping Project itself: one of the most remarkable and magical art spaces in London, a place where images and narratives – moments – stay embedded in one’s heart for a lifetime.” Benjamin Eastham, a journalist and editor, took over in late 2010 and since then he has welcomed a steady stream of guests including Sue Hubbard, Deborah Levy, Gerry King and Chris Difford - on the art of songwriting. These events are convivial, engaging, offbeat and unique and all who experience them know that to be holed up in that corner of the world at that very moment is something very special indeed. When asked of his customers’ reactions to the space, Eastham reflects that it is one of “mild astonishment. In fact winter gains the best reaction from readers - with the stove on the glass house feels like a refuge, and people tend to stay on the bench longer, reading and discussing.” Having said that, “the glass house is not ideally suited to climatic extremes,” Eastham adds. “Autumn and Spring are the best seasons - mild temperatures, requiring neither the stove nor the hurried erection of emergency shade - and the changing scenes outside as the trees in the garden shed or gain foliage.” The books themselves are also precious. This tiny, independent space stocks an eclectic range of them - on contemporary art, design, photography, fashion, poetry and cookery as well as children’s literature, beautifully produced magazines and vital new fiction. “Here is a space that celebrates the book,” says Eastham. “That frames and centre-stages it. From outside, the books that line the walls seem back-lit, like an expensively mounted photograph. The spines and covers of book acquire a neon sheen. Inside is a bench and stove, and visitors are encouraged to sit, talk, read and discuss. Weekly readings reinforce the conviction that the act of reading can be a shared experience rather than a private communion. The discussion of ideas, phrases and images broadens our appreciation of them, opens us up to the interpretative variety that marks out the good work from the bad (there is no such thing as ‘getting’ a book or work of art, neither should there be). Here there is nothing to hide - our reaction to books and works of art should not be characterised by coyness - by fear of being shown up as ignorant - but instead by celebration. We should make a play of that which we love, we should spotlight and fuss over it. We should put it in a glass house.”
foxgloves and lavender The Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is positioned within the surrounds of a Victorian walled garden. Gerard Donnachie, who lived on the site as a child, remembers copious amounts of golf played on the lawn. “We used to play golf, putting, up and down that lawn, my dad was obsessed with putting, he never really played golf but he putted a lot. He spent one summer - we thought it was his mid-life crisis - where he dug up and levelled it and made a lovely lawn there. It had been there but it was a bit rough so he made it into a decent lawn. Today, the garden is tended to by Philip Cobbett. Not a gardener by trade, instead a fashion and print designer, but an instinctive and passionate gardener nonetheless. “I was first brought here for Yellow Since 1877 a couple of years ago when the umbrellas were in the sycamore tree. It was just a ‘wow’ moment. Down in the Boiler House was this enchanted forest - and dancers up on the windowsill and ledges and I remember thinking it was wonderful, I could understand the passion and the spark of slightly witty, jaunty angles to it all. Last year I came to the summer season of outside films and was sat out on the lawn, watching All About Eve. The whole atmosphere was lovely and it was so warm. But I got distracted by the garden, because I love gardens, and I just thought there’s something here that I could do. I’m not a qualified gardener, I just garden with passion – it’s more instinctive, which is how I approached it with Jules. I came to see her and made a list of how I saw the garden. I wanted it very traditional, in keeping with the Victorian feel of the building itself and keeping it as a garden that I could imagine would have been here if somebody had planted a garden then. With lots of herbaceous plants and old-fashioned mallows, and foxgloves and dephiniums and lavender. Very much Vita Sackville-West; Sissinghurst, or Gertrude Jekyll, in that style. Very sensory – you don’t know where the smell’s quite coming from, it’s all around you in the evening. I worked with the shapes that were already in the garden, especially the curved wall as you come in, it’s a very strong shape and so I wanted to echo that in the main herbaceous border. When I first spoke to Jules, one of the only conditions she gave me was that it’s all white. Everything in the garden has to be all white. I’m trying to slip a very pale yellow and a very slight ivory in. But it’s more about texture and height, from grasses that are going to be two metres, with very fine feathery tops, to short plump-forming lavender that will just be an amazing smell.”
In the Sycamore Tree The Sycamore tree stands just beyond the Victorian wall that separates a sedate Wapping Wall, cobbled and quiet, from the grounds of the former power station. Of recent years it has hosted in its branches an always-beguiling selection of objects, from birds to umbrellas to ladders and chairs. It signals all that is special, strange and unique about The Wapping Project. In 2010, Nicola Yeoman installed Higher Still in the tree, placing chairs and ladders in its branches; creating a childlike fantasy, a Jack and the Beanstalk challenge.
YOHJI MAKING WAVES 2011
The Lady in the Lake Or so the focal point of the exhibiton was dubbed by many who set eyes on it. Yohji Making Waves was officially launched on the same day as an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. A strange coincidence that left The Wapping Project with an exhibition that many visitors interpreted as a tribute to the country and those affected. The oversized white silk wedding dressing from Yohji’s A/W 2008 collection was suspended upside down in a flooded Boiler House. Its reflection wavered ethereally in the black water, the depth of which was imperceptible. The movement of a boat across the surface scattered and distorted the reflection before the water stilled again, pulling the image back together like elastic. The boat was steered by a Yamamoto-clad oarsman who led visitors through the scene: around its edges and straight through the middle within touching distance of the dress. It was a contemplative experience that Gill Hicks likens to the piece Wapping launched with in 2000, Conductor. “I think once again this has the properties of the Jane Prophet work,” she says. “I think anything where you’re looking at flooding the space with water, it just takes you on another dimension entirely. You can stand on that platform and be lost in what’s going on around you. And that escapism is extraordinary, just to watch a little rowboat go round, but to feel like there is a calmness but also a contemplation to it. It’s a very odd mixture, the meeting of the two, where you can be calm, but in a contemplative mood as well, and that for me is what the Jane Prophet work did. I feel the same standing on the platform watching this now, and being able to drift away into it.” As with all shows, Yohji Making Waves had a profound effect on those who experienced it. “The fact that [Jules] can affect people’s emotions is a very powerful thing,” says Caroline Grimshaw, in accordance with this. “Because I think what she’s proven is that art can affect emotions and I don’t think many people can do that.” It affected storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton in such a way that inspired her to bring her own interpretation of Persephone to the space one Sunday. “I am a newcomer to The Wapping Project, taken by friends to see Yohji Making Waves. I was rowed across the dark lake to see the reflecting dress, and felt I was inside a living myth. This immersive, daring installation was a mythical world come to life. I thought of Charon the ferryman, who rows souls across the River Styx to the Land of the Dead, and Persephone, captured by Hades and taken to his underworld kingdom. I am a writer and storyteller and was filled with longing to tell this story in this magical space. I wrote to Jules, and without knowing me or my work, she spontaneously and intuitively agreed to collaborate on a performance. I told the myth from the boat, and the audience stood on the pier. The water, the darkness, the luminous dress, the reflection and the trail of lights echoed with
the story. The story did not need explanation or commentary, the installation created this. The combination of myth and space created layers of images and emotions, of puberty and growing up; of a mother’s love and inevitable loss; of beauty, sacrifice, starvation; of desire; of death and re-birth. After the performances, I peeped into the barn at the back of the building. It is full of old hoardings, and bits of wood and metal. A strange thrill ran through me. The piles of junk seemed full of potential, waiting for their turn to be transformed. What rare courage and vision has made The Wapping Project. This brings hope and inspiration for all artists. I look forward to seeing what comes out of the barn next.” The separate components of the piece were as considered as ever: Elena Cacciatore was commissioned to make the turquoise body that lay, luminescent, at the centre of the installation. She cast it lovingly in her Bethnal Green studio, two miles north of Wapping, and documented the process (see page -). Billy Cowie, who first worked with Jules Wright on the ‘crazed rock opera’ Shiny Nylon in 1997, was asked, once again, to write a score. His vivid recollection of the experience also pertains to Wapping in a wider context: “The trick when Jules describes a new project requiring music is to remain calm; so Jules, for Yohji Making Waves you are going to flood the gallery, suspend upside down an enormous wedding dress and have the spectators view it from a small rowing boat? – of course, what else would you do? The challenge then is to match the visual inventiveness with something as startling sound-wise. For Yohji Making Waves I decided a delicate Schumannesque electronic soundtrack would fill the black space and complement the ambient water sounds. Then, why not have a secondary sound track on the boat to accompany the viewers on their voyage? Meshing water sounds to complement the dipping of the oars with bells and subdued voices plus a distant foghorn for a touch of humour. For the viewers on the ‘shore’ the moving sounds would trace the path of the boat sonically through the dark space. For those lucky enough to be floating past the dress the effect can only be described as magical; video documentation as in so many Wapping projects just doesn’t cut it; put simply, if you weren’t there, then you weren’t there!” This final sentiment is a pertinent one that anyone featured in this book would no doubt attest to, and one that makes The Wapping Project on Paper an all-the-more ironic proposition. After months as a lake, the Boiler House was drained to make way for a series of films, which visitors watched from a patch of old cinema seats below water level: one more exposure on a well-worn negative. By this point, it was of course winter again and to repeat many other people’s memories, it was freezing and yes, of course there were blankets.
A Short Book of Wapping Stories