MY STORY A Towering talent
Tower Bridge, one the world’s most recognisable landmarks, has appointed 23-year-old Imogen Piper, a design graduate from Goldsmith’s College who works across art forms, as its new artist-in-residence.
What interests you about Tower Bridge?
Imagery of Tower Bridge can be found across the globe, symbolising the UK, London, and Victorian architecture. Whilethese images predominantly focus on the exterior of the bridge and its decoration, I personally find the workings of the bridge the most fascinating; feats of engineering like the steel structure, the engines and the hydraulic machinery.These machines are both functional and beautiful, and it is this correlation that particularly interests me.
Tower Bridge attracts visitors from a range of backgrounds, disciplines and cultures, something that contemporary art galleries often fail to do. I’m interested in bringing art into less conventional spaces to allow for new forms of contextual engagement. The Engine Rooms are an incredibly inspiring context to exhibit work within. They are the antithesis of a conventional white walled gallery space, a place of form, function and history that I am excited to bring contemporary creative practice in to, and for the conversations that will culminate
You have a studio there. Where in the building is it?
My studio is located upstairs in the South Abutment. This is one of the archways which the bridge’s suspension chains are attached to.
How long is the residency for and how much of your time is spent in the bridge?
The residency spans from August 2018 to January 2019, with an exhibition of my work opening in the Engine Rooms in November. Therefore, most of my time at the bridge will be spent leading up to this date, with some community engagement workshops occurring in the period after the exhibition launch.
You say of your work that it’s “converging the existing rather than fabricating the new”. How do you think that will manifest itself?
I will be looking for an appropriate and interesting system to converge aspects of the large quantities of data related to the bridge that I have been given access to. Regarding the specifics of what this pre-existing system or medium might be, I don’t want to give too much away right now; but these decisions will culminate from thorough research and unpicking of the bridge’s history, culture and inheritence.
What was the first thing you did?
It's hard to remember exactly the first thing I did, but on my first full day I met lots of members of staff, including the welcome hosts who work within the exhibitions to help visitors get the most informative experience whist observing the bridge’s artefacts and architecture. Afterwards I grabbed my notebook and slowly walked around the bridge, the engine rooms and the exhibitions in the towers myself. Shortly after beginning the residency I was lucky enough to observe a bridge lift from within the control cabin, and be given a tour by one of the technical staff of the incredible bascule chamber.
The bridge has over two million visitors a year. Can you interact with them?
I have enjoyed getting out of the studio and wandering around the bridge, the exhibits and the surrounding area, observing the people and behaviours that inhabit the structure. While this is quite a passive form of interaction, within the residency there will be far more opportunities for active participation; I will be helping lead a public workshop for children at the bridge as part of the Big Draw event on the 20th October. After the exhibition launch I will be holding a community engagement activity related to the piece of work I produce. I also plan to spend some time in the engine rooms when the exhibition is up, and speak with people about the work. Visitors won’t necessarily be expecting to see contemporary art and I think this provides a unique opportunity to discuss the work and the bridge’s past and present cultural significance.
Do you expect to make a series of artworks, or will there be a single major piece at the end?
The way it’s looking at the moment I think it is most likely that I’ll produce one major piece of work, with a few smaller supporting pieces. However my process does involve practical experimentation, so I will be making throughout the residency, producing pieces of work that will help me develop my ideas towards a final output.
You work in film, sculpture and performance. Will you choose a single medium for this or a number – or something new?
I don’t want to speak too soon, but at the moment I think it is most likely that I’ll be producing the main body of the exhibition sculpturally. However, I will also most likely create a publication or zine to support this, and maybe a video/visuals too. This is all to be decided in the next couple of months.
You are the second artist-in-residence at Tower Bridge after Alex Evans who produced over 40 drawings. Will you be able to learn anything from his experiences?
While Alex and I work in very different mediums, I think Alex’s ability to look beyond the actual and convey aspects of the bridge in an abstract but thought provoking way is something that I hope to channel within my work too.
Are there other Victorian buildings you would like to explore as thoroughly as you will this one?
Since beginning this residency I’ve become aware of Crossness pumping station. Like Tower Bridge, this is a site of engineering prowess and exquisite decoration. With the new Thames Tideway “super sewer” being built within sight of Tower Bridge, I’d be particularly interested in delving into (not literally of course) a comparison project of some sort between the two systems/ architectures.