Dear James

Richard Wentworth


Dear James, 

You asked me for a title. How’s An Area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty? King’s Cross is baffling. We’ve been chasing it for three years and it’s still eluding us. I both admire and fear it, but in the right proportions that's exactly the combination which makes a project take off.

This week all the magnetic filings are beginning to line up - meetings with table tennis manufacturers (French, of course), organisers of table tennis tournamen­ts, people who make stairwells in second-hand shipping containers, periscope makers, the people who used to draw the A-Z freehand, street by street, and, vitally, you securing our use of the abandoned plumber’s chants on York Way, Coincidentally, demolition began yesterday in Railway Street, so the feeling of instability is moving to the next phase. ‘Lost Property’ writ large and physical.

King’s Cross’s grand reputation for transience is so powerful that I have sometimes wondered if perhaps the place itself could be fugitive, like a very speedy geology. Can a place migrate? Deserts do it. A disappearing act.

London was described to me as a Brownian Motion, all jostling molecules. Maps try to steady us, but you can see that London still behaves like a shaken game rabble, or a dropped puzzle. Some of the city is pinned down by punctuation marks like St Paul’s, monument, Canary Wharf, Marble Arch, Big Ben, Archway, Nelson’s Column too. But the names of London’s parts slip and slide over each other. There is a moiré of possibilities for locating anything, which is why, perhaps, I think of the A-Z as a binder in which every page (and every page edge) is notched with a million­ map reading tantrums.

Like all mature cities, London is made of absences. All these objects which have gone missing, or are only semi-visible, which cast a shadow across a district and make it into a place: Chalk Farm, Crystal Palace, Swiss Cottage, Limehouse, Knightsbridge, Highgate, Shepherd’s Bush, Temple, World’s End. Add the Elephant, and the Angel.

The long gone King’s Cross casts a shadow so permanent it’s like a stain with an unfixed edge. Using episodic approach over several months AAOOUB promises, I think, to beat the bounds, making new edges, picking up what it finds as it goes.

Till tomorrow,

20 June 2002

Image: Stacks of A-Zs at General Plumbing Supplies, King’s Cross, London. Photograph: Richard Wentworth