21st September - 26th October
Private View: 21st September 3 - 5pm
The Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores is a project inspired by a speculative diagram drawn by the late pyrotechnic sculptor Stephen Cripps.
Cripps (1952 – 1982) lived and work-ed in the riverside studios of Butlers Wharf, Bermondsey. His ‘Mechanical Garden’ drawing depicted an assemblage of scrap metal, broken machin-ery and other found objects reworked into a sculpted garden complete with mechanical flowerbeds, viewing platforms and water features.
Thirty-two years after his death, artists Ben Burgis, Stuart Middleton and Richard Sides re-imagine this unrealized drawing as an immersive site-specific installation in Dilston Grove, Southwark Park.
This collaborative work is activated by a series of performances by Bruce Gilbert, Anne Bean and Richard Wilson, Anne Imhof, Alina Astrova and Ashkelon. An audio guide – part soundtrack, part oral history – features interviews, archive footage, soundtracks and essays by writers and musicians including Alice Hattrick, Patrick Langley, Jonathan P Watts, Steven Warwick (Heatsick), William Raban, Laura Oldfield Ford, Simon Werner and Z’EV.
The Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores engages with the garden as motif and metaphor, exploring its relationship to public space alongside cycles of growth, decay and regeneration. Contemporary artists, writers and musicians channel the spirit of Cripps’s antagonistic, spontaneous practice to create a sensory experience that contemplates the politics of ephemeral practices, the nature of creative influence and the city as artists muse.
Event: 18th October, 4 – 8pm Tickets: £7.00.
An afternoon of live music and performance
featuring Anne Bean & Richard Wilson,
Ashkelon, Bruce Gilbert and Anne Imhof + more.
‘Art is creation and fire is destruction, we might say, yet Cripps sought a language, or at least an armory of effects, which transcended the disjunction of these two inextricable and often shocking processes.’
- David Toop, Aftershock,
Stephen Cripps Monograph,
A letter to the late Stephen Cripps, pyrotechnic sculptor and Butler’s Wharfresident from 1974-79
I found you buried within the results of an online search. Clicking and sifting through pixilated photographs, half remembered accounts – throwing back the old boots and empty cans, looking for the pearls. Amongst these ‘poor images’: a smoke filled gallery with groping hands, showers of white sparks flying over metal cymbals. I followed these fragments to this drawing, pulling it out of the coded earth, tending to its mangled roots and foliage.
I walk east from Tower Bridge along the river. I know now that a garden of mechanical parts is all that could grow on these stretches of London Clay. Rows of petunias the colour of babouche or rolling lawns of folly green are incapable of taking root in these claggy banks. What thick and tiresome stuff. All stuck between fingers and toes. Think of those poor mud larkers who dug deep or skimmed the surface for lost metal trinkets, or for coal and grain dropped in the last moments of their journey, falling from palettes as they were heaved by bargemen sweaty with the effort of work. Lumps of pyrite (you know, fool’s gold) run through this damp and heavy mass – this is the stuff that bricks are made of. I wonder if you knew (or even thought?) that this mineral sparked the first self-igniting firearm. Much like the lighter in my pocket, it was the activator that sat against the toothed steel wheel, the one triggered by an angry finger; lighting the flame that travelled to the charge.
BANG! is the sound of interruption, of anxious excitement and fear – I think it kept you alive. Oil smears and stuttering starts: prediction traded for the unknown.
BLAST! (first England, after Lewis) and then all that machinery we had to produce. This was before the war, when we were needy, before the docks closed and the men shifted, out of the wharves and down around the river bend.
High up in unit D6, your studio and home above the Thames, did you consider this gravel and mud? The basis of which wood pilings were drilled in lines to form the platform on which Butler’s Wharf rests. Or did you spend more time surveying your ‘junkspace’, a workshop filled with the residue of other people’s past lives. I always thought it was clever (but maybe just necessary) that you built a shed in the middle, a place for cigarettes and tea. Every Englishman needs a shed, not to mention a garden.
Farrow & Ball describe the colour London Clay as a ‘charming brown’. Try it in dining rooms or pantries. Snugs. A classy backdrop for wellington boots or a punchy feature wall. Its probably rollered in straight lines up there in the apartments on the top floor, behind the double-glazed French windows, fading with each ray of polluted sunshine. The 1970’s are the dusty colours of a neglected landscape. I’m looking at photographs that are brown, bleached to beige almost, wrung out, void of anything that could nourish. Windows are broken, doors shut up. The bricks disappear into a river of green, lichen scales the tideline. These spaces areas still as they could be were it not for your presence. Yours was a time of binaries – of fast or slow, destruction or construction. There were fences on which one could choose which side to sit, spaces in which to drop out in.
I imagine you in the Wharf, before all this glassy newness, amongst your bounty, like a ridiculous pirate pondering his rescued wares, the stuff deemed outmoded by other more legitimate systems of production. You recuperated it all into an alternative cycle, one that didn’t have to make any economic sense, and one that would end with a garden party.
Your plan was simple, and it was scrawled in pen with a measured but no less urgent haste. In scratches of zigzagged ink you drew circles and squares for gravel, and annotated swings and flowerbeds with typed letters on small squares of paper, cut and pasted with precision. This would be a place to stroll through and marvel at the beauty of society’s waste – be made accountable maybe? You were living in a building no longer deemed useful; a pile of bricks unable to contribute to a London of growth. How do you make something new in this museum?
REJECT! You may have heard Gustav Metzger say, reject the ruin, this site of romance, of fetishised squalor. Throw it away for good, burn it with acid until it fizzes its last gasp, and don’t add to the pathetic embers of sentimentalism. Shout ‘It’s alive, it’s alive’. Resurrect this wasteland of parts with a coursing current of electricity. Energise it like a Victorian monster and make us see these uncanny things anew.
CRASH! Transform technology into a public art. Get intimate with the mass produced, re-imagine a union between bodies and deformed metal spurs, rubber tubes and glass fragments. Ballard said he wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror. You left your agenda somewhere; it died in the fading glow of a smoking pinwheel. Instead, you placed your audience in an inevitable feedback loop of consumption and entropy. Interrupting this cycle, our bodies are ciphers in a handmade technological horizon.
I imagine a pier looking out on a lake full of clockwork fish. The chiming sounds of the passing of time repeating through the chinking of wind percussion trees that rattle and shake together overhead.See the steel conveyor belt, transporting rubbish, emptying it dutifully into a litterbin truck. The wafting smell of roses sprayed at automated intervals, up from the arbour that tracks through this landscaped terrain. Scarecrows stuffed with potassium and chlorate explode every 15 minutes. Magnesium frizzles through the air with a hissing sound. A wayward spark catches my sweater and burns a small hole, the size of a cigarette end; war wounds. I finger the gap but look up sharply as the sound of a barking dog statue breaks my concentration with a start.
The to-ing and fro-ing of speakers in time to a revving lawn mower; its rotary motor with munching blade turns fast and then slow with an endless and threatening anticipation. This motion, like the tide of the river, goes in and out. This carnival of rust dredged up from below. If only you could go six metres down, where the pots and pans of our ancestors lie crushed into tightly packed layers reminiscent of the fossil and gravel that form sedimentary rock; the basis of London’s foundation.
As if in some parallel reality (some dark underworld) – the bowels of a ship or the engine room of a steam train – this garden bubbles up to the surface, through the layers of London Clay and up to face the strolling walker. This tangle of industrial wreckage, objects of daily use that once lay discarded are like the graveyards of airplanes as painted by Paul Nash: ‘the great inundating sea’. Whereas these casualties of war languished in defeat (a symbol of some kind of victory) this stricken assemblage of broken domestic objects – not shot down from the sky, but made wonky by misuse – are not dead, but merely sick. You nurse them; they are transformed, transplanted, ready to wake up anew in a metallic Babylon.
‘He dreamed prolifically of events, which would unleash forces on a grand scale, often turning death, violence, destruction and disaster to ridiculous or poetic ends.’
- David Toop, Aftershock,
Stephen Cripps Monograph,
ALICE HATTRICK | SLOW BURN A conversation about Stephen Cripps with Ally Raftery, David Toop, Jonathan Harvey, Margy Kinmonth, Anne Bean, Richard Wilson, Peter Randall-Page, Naomi Pearce and Jeni Walwin. PATRICK LANGLEY | GARDEN STATES An essay that considers the mechanical garden in light of garden history, and reflects on the metaphorical significance of the installation’s underground and overground zones. LAURA OLDFIELD FORD | ROTHERHITHE, CANADA WATER, SURREY DOCKS, OCTOBER 14TH 19.11 A psychogeographic sound work created from material gathered during drifts around Bermondsey. JONATHAN P WATTS | BOW SCANSIONS A conversation, in car and by foot, between the filmmaker William Raban and Jonathan P Watts. Proceeding from Bow, where he has lived for over forty years, Raban shares his Tower Hamlets: Gentrified docks, BNP Wards, Balfron Tower, and Kray Twins nostalgia — among many motifs in his films. STEVEN WARWICK (HEATSICK) | CLIMATE CHANGE A collage of city recordings including automated voices, text, ambient sound of botanic gardens, weed dealers in görlitzer park and construction sites. SIMON WERNER | WHAT'S THE REMEDY? ‘Rhymes on a pathological fleshly nature featuring a dualistic deadlock between poison and antidote’. Z’EV | STEPHEN CRIPPS 1952-1982 A MAN'S A MAN FOR A' THAT ‘this here is a way to celebrate a fire wizard and jean tingly’. DOWNLOAD ALL
Ben Burgis, Stuart Middleton and Richard Sides with Alina Astrova, Anne Bean, Ashkelon, Bruce Gilbert, Alice Hattrick, Jonathan Harvey, Anne Imhof, Patrick Langley, Margy Kinmonth, Laura Oldfield Ford, Ally Raftery, Peter Randall-Page, William Raban, David Toop, Jeni Walwin, Jonathan P Watts, Steven Warwick (Heatsick), Simon Werner, Richard Wilson and Z'EV
The Mechanical Garden and Other Long Encores
A Woodmill production, conceived by Naomi Pearce.
21 September – 26 October
Opening times: Friday – Sunday from 11am – 5pm
and by appointment.
Preview: Sunday, 21 September from 3 – 5pm.
Event: 18th October, 4 – 8pm
An afternoon of live music and performance featuring Anne Bean & Richard Wilson, Ashkelon, Bruce Gilbert and Anne Imhof + more. Tickets: £7.00.
Dilston Grove, CGP London,
Southwark Park, SE16 2DD
www.woodmill.org / www.cgplondon.org
CGP London is financially assisted by Arts Council England and Southwark Council. CGP London provides two contrasting spaces for artists to realise ambitious new projects: Cafe Gallery which is a modern purpose-built space comprising three interlinked ‘white room’ spaces and Dilston Grove, Britain’s first in-situ poured concrete structure, that provides with a cavernous raw space for large-scale installations and performance.
The Woodmill is a collaboratively run project established in Bermondsey in 2009. It supports artists through studios, residencies, exhibitions and events.
With special thanks to Ron Henocq, Hiranni Himona, Simon Parris, Mike Nelson and Oliver Basciano.