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A Way from Heaven

by Adam Chodzko


by Adam Chodzko, commissioned by Tideway

About the artwork:

Artist Adam Chodzko has been commissioned by Tideway to create an integrated artwork for the façade of the electrical and control kiosk situated on the southeastern corner of the playing field of the Barn Elms Schools Sports Centre.

This and all of the permanent commissions respond to the site-specific narratives set out in the Heritage Interpretation Strategy. Chodzko’s commission at Barn Elms is based upon the area’s connection to Sir Francis Walsingham – the government administrator responsible for intelligence services in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 – who resided at Barn Elms Manor. It was Walsingham’s spy system that discovered the Babington Plot of 1586 to murder Queen Elizabeth I and her ministers and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. Babington’s encrypted correspondence with Mary was intercepted and decoded by Walsingham’s spies, preventing the plot from being carried out and ultimately leading to the execution of the Queen of Scots.

Chodzko’s proposal, developed with the Contractor’s design team, is to laser cut a portion of the code, which Walsingham deciphered, into the anodised aluminium façade of the kiosk, comprising a smaller version in a repetitive pattern, and larger version across the façade. The contrast between the areas of code and the background will be achieved by sandblasting the aluminium, to create a darker finish.

Working from a digitised version of the original, the work faithfully recreates the handwritten script of Babington’s code, written with a quill and ink, and enables Chodzko to employ artistic licence to create an equally enigmatic message that resemble topographical marks on a map but can be decoded to read ‘A WAY FROM HEAVEN’.

In reference to the falconry kept by Walsingham at Barn Elms and the quills used to write the ciphers a row of falcon feathers feature in the background of the work, rendered in a darker pigmentation. At the top left and bottom right of the façade will be the html codes </head> and </body> referencing contemporary computer code, and the separation of head and body of Mary Queen of Scots.

Deliberately ambiguous, and resisting any singular meaning, the phrase A WAY FROM HEAVEN, and the work’s title, provokes numerous readings and interpretations that resonate with the site’s history and its current purpose. Beheaded for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I, the words could be interpreted as sealing Mary’s fate, forbidding her entry into heaven, while conversely a peaceful and meditative scene can be conjured from the phrase when considering Walsingham’s pastime of watching falcons swoop from the sky and away from heaven. Chodzko also appeals to our habit of looking up to the heavens and refocuses our minds on the earth below our feet, under which the new sewer system will run.

Chodzko proposes to position the ciphers across the façade in a way to encourage closer scrutiny and a sense of discovery; some are partially visible, while others are obscured, and only apparent from certain angles. Additionally, by playing with scale, the ciphers and feathers can only be discerned when seen from a certain distance, encouraging the public to decipher the artwork in an approach much like Walsingham.

The artwork

About the structure

The kiosk houses mechanical, electrical and distribution network operator control functions, as well as the worksite’s ventilation column. Approximately semi-circular in plan view, it comprises a straight aluminium façade and a curved gabion façade filled with different materials to promote a diverse array of biodiversity and support plant growth. The kiosk’s brown rook will be sloped and include areas of rockery type plants to better integrate the structure into the open and natural feel of the site and the surrounding trees and vegetation.