Artist Richard Wentworth CBE has been commissioned by Tideway to create an artwork for the new public realm site at Victoria Embankment.
The permanent Tideway commissions respond to the site-specific narratives set out in the Tideway Heritage Interpretation Strategy (HIS). The cultural meander for the Central section is ‘Babylon to World City: Civic London’. The site-specific narrative offers opportunities to explore how evolving democratic institutions responsible for London’s governance have influenced the experiences of diverse urban communities. There are several sites where the HIS is responded to primarily within the landscape or the architecture, and the artworks are more site-specific responses. This site is one of these.
Richard Wentworth's inspiration is London. He is fascinated by aspects of the capital's secret nature with a close visual reading of post-boxes, railings, CCTV masts and wing mirrors. His contention was that the city – indeed, the country – has never been very good at being glamorous, and is at heart a make-do-and-mend culture.
The artist’s response has been to create interventions which represent the everyday but can take on a range of meaning and uses in this specific context. The artworks are intended for use and have a dual function as seating and barriers. The artist has developed his initial proposal for a stack of cast bronze sandbags to act as informal seating or perches to enable people to sit and look out across the river and creating an opportunity for gathering. The artworks will be cast from actual sand filled hessian sandbags and cast as a single stack. The foundry will authentically be able to recreate the hessian texture of the bags.
The decision by Parliament in 1872 that the Embankment should be protected for the recreational benefit of Londoners following attempts by the Crown to develop the reclaimed land also resonates in the artist’s response. To slightly disrupt the orthogonal nature of the site and inject some subtle humour and intrigue. The artist’s response to this site is to consider the impact of Bazalgette’s legacy, including that of the political structure of London:
“…catch sight of any group of people in repose, at a bus stop, in a line waiting for a store to open, or anybody in a public place ‘watching’ the public. You can do this just as well in non-metropolitan sites, all those genre paintings with people leaning on gates or resting in stable yards.
The bale, the sack, the barrel, the keg, whatever comes to hand. Far from wanting to ‘illustrate’ any of these things I do, nonetheless, always notice the way we lean, prop, and rest ourselves.
Since the Thames lost its ‘shore’, the space was replaced with a kind of metropolitan invention (the word ‘boulevard’ comes from ‘bulwark’ - an adoption of the habit of walking around ramparts to take in the view. The 'prospect’.
The assemblage of accoutrements along the Embankment makes a multiplicity of references, ideas of ‘foreign lands’, requiems for Empire etc. I was always impressed by the representation of the saddle bags on the camels which make the decorative feet of the riverside benches.
Contriving something for these new sites which employs than language of the bale and the sack seemed apposite.”
With the need to address the demarcation of the change of levels in the public realm it is proposed that the location of the artworks be utilised to create a demarcation of the space. The sandbag stacks will be positioned to form an irregular line to separate, in a permeable way, one space from another.