I caught myself listening on tip-toe for the next beat of the boat. – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
During 2012, Artangel invited 38 writers, musicians and artists from across the globe to compose, perform or imagine new work in A Room for London: a one-bedroom Heart of Darkness-influenced installation perched on a roof high above the River Thames.
Built as a peaceful space to think and reflect in, the Room was installed on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, by Living Architecture and designed by David Kohn Architects in collaboration with the artist Fiona Banner.
Image: A Room for London (2012). Photograph: William Eckersley
Taking place in the living area of the Roi des Belges, Sounds from a Room was a monthly series of web-streamed gigs from a host of international musicians. Followers of the performances tuned in from all over the world — from the US and Mexico to Japan and South Korea, even Qatar and Macau.
Watch or listen to a year Sounds from a Room.
June: Imogen Heap (also featured left)
How English do I feel, I’m asked. And the answer is, not at all. But I feel comfortable. – Ahdaf Soueif, Waiting for the Flood
Throughout 2012, the Roi des Belges became A London Address for a series of international writers and thinkers who spent four nights on board the boat with the same fluid brief: think about London in 2012 and its place in the world more than a century after Conrad’s terrifying dissection of the mindset of empire. At the end of their stay, each writer made an audio recording of the material they had written.
Listen in full to A London Address
The collected writings of the boat's residents were also published as a paperback book.
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.
Explore all the Hearts of Darkness.
Geoff Dyer on Heart of Darkness (also featured left)
Image: David Byrne sound recording for his video, Get It Away (2012). Photograph: Tom Oldham
Following a competition where the public were asked to submit "ground-breaking ideas for the transformation of the capital", these twelve ideas won their creators a night onboard A Room for London during 2012.
January: No Home to Waste An idea for making use of London's empty housing
February: Year Here A proposal for gap year students to volunteer for projects in their home city
March: The Bird House A walk-in aviary in the form of the phantom of a terraced house
April: Air London A website that shows how to travel the world without leaving the capital
May: Big Data in the LondonScape A modern-day totem pole revealing live data about the city's collective state
June: Big Experiences for Little Londoners An opportunity for primary school children to really experience their city
July: Conversation Olympics A fortnight of conversations for commuters post-work during the Olympics
August: London Gang Rehabilitation An inner city Rehabilitation Centre to help people leave a life of gangsterism
September: Creative Care Home Communities The intergration of care homes as creative hubs in local communities
October: GoodGym A group who get fit by doing physical tasks which benefit the community
November: The London College of Fixing How to fix, adapt and upcycle everyday objects instead of throwing them away
December: Home A restaurant and social enterprise run by unemployed refugees
Image: The bed in which all guests of A Room for London stayed, with Luc Tuymans: Allo! painting hanging above it (2012). Photograph: William Eckersley
During their stay in the Roi des Belges, guests were asked to create handwritten entries in the boat's logbook whose columns include "hour", "location", "tide", "sightings" and "ship's business". Some adhered to these categories, while others took a more freeform approach – the result is a multi-user journal that records both the passing of 2012 and offers a series of counterpoints to the 38 essays, performances, ideas and artworks devised in A Room for London.
A London Address: The Artangel Essays is a publication that brings together the work of thirteen leading writers who, during the course of 2012, took up residence in A Room for London on the roof of Queen Elizabeth Hall. Berthed above the city, cut adrift from the Thames, each writer embarked on an essay that revealed and reflected the teeming, contradictory metropolis below.
The boat was inspired by Roi des Belges, the steamer that bore Joseph Conrad up the Congo – a journey that provided the setting for his novel Heart of Darkness. As such, this book contains from some of the most remarkable and original responses to this major work of fiction, through memories of rivers and journeys, London past and London present.
From Juan Gabriel Vásquez's meditation on belonging, identity and the otherness of London to Michael Ondaatje's piercing reflections on history and literature; from Jeanette Winterson's lyrical, impressionistic musings to Caryl Phillips's supple and poetic observations, this is Joseph Conrad, the Thames and the capital city as you have never experienced them before.
At the end of their stay, each writer made an audio recording of the material they had written. Listen to all of the A London Address recordings.
The collection of books on board A Room for London was housed in the octagonal library, built into the wheelhouse of the Roi des Belges. To help populate the shelves, Foyles provided numerous books that delve further into the themes that ebbed and flowed throughout the year-long project: from contemporary London to river journeys, from the history of art to the legacy of empire. As 2012 progressed, words and ideas found in the library occasionally made their way into texts written for A London Address by a series of monthly resident writers.
Explore the full inventory of the octagonal library.
Image: The view from inside A Room for London (2012). Photograph: Charles Hosea
Fiona Banner's artwork repeatedly explores the themes of narrative and history. Her installation Harrier and Jaguar placed two fighter planes in the central atrium of Tate Britain in London. She has explored the retelling of history through war movies, most notably through her book The Nam, which retells major Vietnam films in her own words.
David Kohn founded the London-based practice David Kohn Architects in 2007, specialising in cultural buildings. Projects have included a local arts centre for the Olympic Park Legacy Company, a pavilion for the Architecture Foundation and several West End contemporary art galleries. The practice was awarded Young Architect of the Year in 2009 and One-Off House Architect of the Year in 2010 for a holiday home in Norfolk.
Other artists who participated in this project are:
Adonis, Naomi Alderman, Amadou & Mariam, Laurie Anderson, Fiona Banner, Andrew Bird, James Bridle, David Byrne, Natalie Clein, Jarvis Cocker, Teju Cole, Jeremy Deller and Chuck, Geoff Dyer, Tim Etchells, Charlie Fink, Heiner Goebbels, Imogen Heap, Roni Horn, Maya Jasanoff, Sven Lindqvist, Baaba Maal, Alain Mabanckou, Michael Ondaatje, Josh T Pearson, Caryl Phillips, Johny Pitts, Kamila Shamsie, Ahdaf Soueif, Stornoway, Colm Toibin, tUnE-yArDs, Luc Tuymans, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Jeanette Winterson.
Images: (Top) Fiona Banner in 2012. Photograph: Mischa Haller. (Bottom) David Kohn in 2012. Photograph: Julian Anderson. (Left) Fiona Banner and David Kohn in the Roi des Belges in 2012. Photograph: Simon Williams, O Productions.
Who made this possible?
A Room for London was a collaboration between Living Architecture and Artangel in association with Southbank Centre. A Room for London, a unique one-bedroom installation, has been built by Living Architecture for guests to rent for one-night stays throughout 2012. The Artangel programme is generously supported by the London 2012 Festival and the Arts Council England. A Room for London is part of the London 2012 Festival – as the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, a UK-wide festival that will feature leading artists from around the world from 21 June to 9 September 2012. Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England and the private patronage of the Artangel International Circle, Special Angels and The Company of Angels. Ideas for London was supported by the Evening Standard, Canteen and Foyles and Sounds from a Room and A London Address by the Guardian and Foyles.