At different moments throughout 2012, under the collective title Hearts of Darkness, artists and stowaways from various professions were invited to spend time in A Room for London. The instruction was simple: use the time and space as an opportunity to imagine something new to share by way of the digital space, echoic of the golden age of nautical broadcasting.
Artist, writer and programmer, James Bridle created “a thing made out of ships, weather and the internet” on a voyage that lasts exactly 365 days. The progress of the "thing made out of ships" could be followed online — as a website and social media bot. What follows is an excerpt from a post on the artist's blog dated Tuesday 15 January 2013 (original post here):
On Sunday night, we lost contact with A Ship Adrift, which had been sailing for exactly 365 days. It had covered half the world. […] In short, the ship is the record of a journey made my a mad, lost, AI autopilot across the web and the world, driven by the weather on the South Bank of the Thames in London.
You can also read the Ship’s log, a year of strange, broken communiques, that make enough sense in their own tongue to twist the mind: the Ship in its own words.
You have to read it in order. Desperate screeds at the start as it tries to process everything. It crosses the channel and enters its Grindr phase over Poland.
I like the fact it went straight for Poland, Conrad’s nominal birthplace. The whole project — not only the Ship, but the wider Room for London programme — was structured around Conrad, and particularly Heart of Darkness, and the Ship needed to retrace that journey, before truly beginning its own.
The Ship added something to an appreciation of the weather, too. It made it to Poland, then took a sharp turn to the South-West, drifting on a cold wind from Siberia. Three days later, it snowed in London…
Image: A Shift Adrift by James Bridle (2012)
Using original and found material, musician, photographer, film director and author, David Byrne, creates a new sound work out of London field recordings and declared: "London's tempo is 122.86 beats per minute." He continued:
I brought along some field recording gear to use while I was staying in the lovely pod/room/boat. I went out during the day and recorded sounds that I thought might be useful and evocative. It turned out that most of the sounds — even the church organ in Southwark Cathedral — seemed to converge around a common rhythm. It's a bit too good to be true — that every large city should have its own rhythm, but here it is. I let the sounds dictate the groove, the tempo, and then I simply played along.
Here are where the sounds come from:
Strawberry seller: Borough Market
Woman Evangelist: Spitalfields Market
Organ: Southwark Cathedral
Jackhammer: near Waterloo
Footsteps: mine, embankment
Thames waves: near Surrey water
The videos are from all over. I took lots of photos around town while walking about, but I felt that moving images complemented London's groove a little better.
Jeremy Deller's stay in A Room for London coincided with a major retrospective solo show of his work at the Hayward Gallery, almost directly beneath the boat in the Southbank Centre. A few weeks earlier he had invited Chuck, a singer and musician who often plays along the South Bank, to a recording studio in West London where they had recorded two cover version songs live, direct-to-disc. Deller then invited Chuck to play a set on board the boat, and to talk about his life performing at different spots in London and Paris.
Directed by artist Fiona Banner, Orson Welles' unmade film Heart of Darkness was performed in its entirety in a one-off live stream on board the Roi des Belges by the actor Brian Cox. Based on Joseph Conrad’s novella written in the late 1930s, Welles's screenplay would have been his first film but it was rejected by the studio RKO. He went on to make Citizen Kane instead. At the time the script was considered too political, too expensive, and too uncompromising artistically, not to mention its narrative parallels with the rise of fascism in Europe. Today other parallels could be drawn. (Script licensed by the Estate of Orson Welles.)
Image: Brian Cox in Fiona Banner's Heart of Darkness, 2012. An Artangel production. Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Orson Welles.
Allo! was painted following a conversation about the Room between Luc Tuymans and Artangel Co-Director James Lingwood, and was based on the last minutes of The Moon and Sixpence, a film made in the early 1940s.
The Belgian artist's painting was resident in A Room for London from 28 - 29 April 2012 during which time, the Guardian art critic Adrian Searle spent a night in the Room. Of the painting he wrote: "Everything emerges from a darkness that is not quite black, except for a ghostly shadow that seems to be Tuymans's own. More a weight or looming coalescence of darkness than a recognisable silhouette, it is a blot on the image… [T]he whole painting looks on the verge of eclipse." You can read the rest of his encounter here.
Luc Tuymans on painting Allo!:
When James Lingwood approached me about the project A Room for London / Roi des Belges he suggested a single painting based upon a short passage from Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness. In this passage Mr. Kurtz speaks with admiration about two paintings he has made. Given the exotic setting in which Heart of Darkness takes place, and thinking about the London context for the project, some film images came to mind.
The painting I’ve made is based upon the last minutes of a film made in 1942 called The Moon and Sixpence. The main character, Charles Strickland, is played by the British actor George Saunders. The film tells the story of Strickland, a middle-aged stockbroker who abandons his middle-class life, his family and his responsibilities, to travel to Tahiti to start a new life as a painter. Although the main character has a different name, the film is clearly based upon the life of Gauguin.
The particular sequence I’m interested in comes at the end of the film. Strickland, the main character, is already dead. His doctor, who speaks with a thick German accent, travels to Tahiti to visit the village where Strickland used to live. He meets with the local wife of the deceased painter and enters his cabin, which was the working place of the artist. Up to this point, the entire movie is in black and white. But when the doctor enters the space, the film jumps into bright colour.
Instead of going one on one with the concept of Kurtz and Heart of Darkness, I thought that the painting ALLO! relates in a less immediate way, given the odd way the doctor is depicted from behind and also how he seems to dissolve into the background of the mock 'Gauguin' paintings.
When we were trying to find the original film, we traced two copies, one solely in black and white, asn the original film with the colour at the end. I took a photograph of this particular still in front of a computer screen. If you look closely, there is the mirror image of a head, my head, seen on the left hand side of the painting. This is probably where Kurtz comes in.
Image: Allo! in situ in A Room for London, 2012. Photograph: Tom Oldham
In an essay written following a night in the Room, Geoff Dyer re-considers Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness:
Like Death in Venice or The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness is not just a book but a modern myth – everyone has read it, even if they have not done so personally. The actual book is far stranger than accounts of it sometimes suggest.
Image: Detail of A Room for London, 2012. Photograph by Charles Hosea
In a sister work to accompany A Ship Adrift, James Bridle gave viewers access to the memory of a special Thames-side surveillance camera. In this excerpt from his blog, Bridle had this to say about A Ship Aground (read the full post here):
For A Ship Adrift, I installed a weather station on top of the South Bank Centre, as part of Living Architecture and Artangel’s A Room For London. Around the same time—the first week of January—I also installed a video camera. One of the outcomes of this is now online: A Ship Aground.
The camera takes a picture every 15-30 minutes, from the prow of the Roi de Belges, overlooking the river and the embankment. A Ship Aground stitches these pictures into slices based on time: the image above consists of 24 hours of observations—88 images from midnight to midnight—on March 15th. The images are large and loaded live in the browser, which may take a while, and it’s an effect I like for its depiction of your local network weather. These pixels have been pulled from the river, uploaded to an Amazon data shed in Ireland, and are now raining back down wherever you are.
At the moment, you can generate slicelogs of up to 24 hours from any date or time the camera has been operating. (Owing to the peculiar network weather on the South Bank, there are a few gaps in the record, but not many.) Later, I hope to generate different models, such as a slice for every midday over the year, and so on…
Image: A Ship Aground by James Bridle for A Room for London
Tim Etchells’ project Unsound Method (after Conrad), responds to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness and comprises of several discrete works: two versions of the novel (available as an unlimited epub edition and as a limited edition print publication), a musical score for violin and trumpet, and a video featuring a live performance of the score by Simon Tong (trumpet) and Aisha Orazbayeva (violin).
The epublication and print edition versions of Heart of Darkness — Unsound Method I & II — respond to (and alter) the text of Conrad’s book. In each, Etchells has redacted the text so that only particular sets of words from the original manuscript remain. In the first — Unsound Method I — the pages are redacted in white and only words associated with light — day, bright, sun, morning and so on — remain visible, carving out a poem which was always present in the material of the original novel. In the second version of the work — Unsound Method II — the pages of Heart of Darkness are again redacted, this time in black, and leaving only words associated with darkness — night, gloom, shadow, black and so on — as visible traces on the page.
In the second phase of Unsound Method, Etchells developed a musical composition in which the sequence and positioning of the same words — day, bright, sun, white, night, gloom, shadow, black and so on — in Conrad’s novel, were used to generate a score for trumpet (playing the sequence of words associated with darkness) and violin (playing the sequence of words associated with light).
Unsound Method — the score and other materials, as well as a video and audio recording of the performance — has been archived and may be viewed on The Internet Archive.
Image: Performing Unsound Method by Tim Etchells for A Room for London
On the eve of its exhibition in September 2012, Luc Tuyman and Pavel Büchler discussed a body of new work, Allo!, initially inspired by a conversation about the boat:
Just like a flash there was this image that came to me. I remembered this colour image of a film that I saw way back in my youth when my parents just had their first colour television.
Image: Luc Tuymans with Allo!. Photograph by Tom Oldham
When Caryl Phillips stayed in A Room for London, he wanted to challenge the iconic view that greeted him. From Big Ben to St Paul’s Cathedral, it suggested, he wrote, "a tradition that no longer really squares with the Britain that we deal with on a daily basis". His essay, London Address, was titled A Bend in the River.
After he left the boat, Phillips invited the photographer Johny Pitts to join him in a literal and figurative journey in which they would explore the many other "Londons to the east". Their tour concluded in Tilbury, the Thames dockside some thirty miles away. In the years between 1948 to 1962, ships had arrived in Tilbury carrying immigrants from Britain’s former colonial territories — hastening the country’s transformation into a multi-cultural, multi-racial society.
Phillips and Pitts’ journey evolved into a new project for The Space: a geographical slideshow. It has a soundtrack that includes excerpts from Caryl Phillips’ essay and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and field recordings gathered from the 30-mile stretch between Waterloo and Tilbury in Essex (via Wapping, Billingsgate, Silvertown and Gravesend).
Image: Photograph from A Bend in the River by Johny Pitts, 2012
After live recording the lyrics for her latest song in June 2012 as part of Sounds of a Room, Imogen Heap’s Heapsongs project returned to A Room for London. An illustrated, interactive online map commissioned by Artangel and created with Robur TV for The Space, that allowed visitors to explore Heap’s journey through Edinburgh (where she recorded the various piano parts of the song): from her own recollections of the people she met and the places she visited, to interviews with the piano owners describing what the instruments mean to them.
The You Know Where To Find me collection, which includes a photo gallery of the Edinburgh locations visited by Heap and her A Room For London performance, was originally hosted by The Space, it has been archived and may be viewed on The Internet Archive.
Image: Website detail, You Know Where to Find Me by Imogen Heap, 2012
Written following her stay in A Room for London, Naomi Alderman's short story Ivory takes Kurtz, one of the most puzzling characters in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and tries to bring her to life. But who is Kurtz's so-called "savage and superb" woman? And isn't the task of reviving her character completely unfeasible or, worse still, artistically dubious?
When she was a child, she loved to go with her father on the fire hunt.
He would process with many men, each one sharp-eyed and strong. To one of the men, he gave the duty of carrying his daughter, Kapapa, to keep her safe. They walked through the brush for many miles, until they saw the elephants. When they spied them from far off, the men made low sounds to each other, some spreading right, some to the left.
To start, they chased the elephants. Not coming too close, and making sure not to pick any females with young calves, for they will stampede and trample any men who frighten them. But the older elephants are weary with men and walk away slowly when they approach. There are around ten of them. By waving their hands and making noise, Msidi and his men encouraged the elephants, slowly and ponderously, to walk through the long grass – all the while plucking up small trees with their trunks and eating them – towards the place where the valleys lead into a deep ravine. And then they set the fire.
Continue reading the story here or listen to the story below.
Roni Horn reflects on the meaning — personal and universal — of the dark and opaque Thames river outside A Room for London’s window:
In a waiting room in a doctor's office some years ago, I overheard a mother talking about how her kids were afraid of it. If they couldn't see into it, they wouldn't go into it.
Image: Roni Horn on the deck of A Room for London, 2012. Photograph: Tom Oldham