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Bone, Soot and Oil

By Lubna Chowdhury

Bone, Soot and Oil 

by Lubna Chowdhary, commissioned by Tideway

Artist Lubna Chowdhary has been commissioned by Tideway to create an artwork for Earl Pumping Station.

The heritage theme for the East section of the tunnel is ‘The Shipping Parishes – Gateway to the World’. Within this heading, the site-specific narrative for Earl Pumping Station relates to the site’s proximity to Greenland Dock, formerly known as the Howland Great Wet Dock. It is one of the earliest enclosed docks within the historic Port of London.

Built between 1695 and 1699 and later renamed Greenland Dock, it was expanded at the beginning of the 20th century. Originally used to refit East India Company merchant ships, from the early 18th century the dock was the berth and processing plant for the London’s Arctic whaling fleet, which operated off the Atlantic coast of Norway and Greenland. Whaling was an important economic activity between the 16th and 19th centuries. Initially operating under a charter of Elizabeth I, the Port of London whaling fleet played a leading role in the commercial exploitation in cetacean resources.

It became commercially unviable in the early 19th century due to overexploitation and a decline in the market for whale oil following the development of chemical and petrochemical alternatives. This narrative also offers opportunities to explore the ecological and cultural impact of historic industrial exploitation of marine fauna.

The artist in response to the Heritage Interpretation Strategy (HIS) has developed an artwork which takes its inspiration from the engraved black scrimshaw marks on whalebone, and the striations on the underside of whales, both referencing the whaling trade undertaken in nearby Greenland Dock.

The artwork comprises a two metre high band of lines CNC cut into the light-coloured glazed panels to reveal the stone surface, creating a series of black striations around the elliptical shaft structure.

Lubna has conceived the commission to be visible from all views into the site, and the band extends around the entire shaft, responding to both the street and surrounding existing and potential future developments.

It is a modest yet striking proposal by the artist, who specialises in ceramics, and is a balanced response to the site referencing the HIS while being sympathetic to the surrounding environment. It also references the presence of the river at this more removed site; and should become a welcomed part of the streetscape. Lubna has collaborated with the architects to consider the relationship of the shaft to the artwork to create an integrated rather than applied artwork.

The art work