Measure once, cut twice.
The steel plates are cut and the edges beveled. I take them to Studio 4 and prop them against the walls. Horror! I realise they are not the same size as the windowpanes in the studio. My plates are about 1-2cm narrower and 1cm taller. Since Studio 4 is part of the same facade as my triple height source window, my initial measurements of the windowpanes in the derelict space must be wrong.
Why is it so important to me that the etching plates are the same size as the original panes? It is partly because the way I normally make my prints is directly from the object. I cannot do that in this case but I remain strongly attached to the idea of the work as a print from the window, a transfer from it or trace of it, not just a drawing of it, which could be any size. The first place I will show them is in Studio 4 next to some of the real windows, so even a slight difference in size will be obvious (to me at least).
Rushing back to measure my chosen triple height window again I find to my surprise that the panes are not all the same size. They vary slightly in width due to the warping and rusting of the window frames and probably inaccuracies in the initial manufacture, but more importantly they are quite different heights in the different sections. The tallest (in the bottom section) being 5cm longer than the shortest (in the middle section). I then run around the building measuring all the windows I can reach and discover that they vary from floor to floor and one façade to another.
In some ways this is good news, I have to question my idea of them as industrially manufactured identical units, and not be completely precious about getting them exactly “right”. But I decide that despite this that I should buy some more steel and get some more plates cut (about 3 days work). None of my existing ones are tall enough to replicate the bottom section panes and due to inaccuracies in my cutting some of them are up to 1cm too narrow.
I ask various people for advice. Some of them think my perfectionist tendencies have unhinged me, but a couple of artist friends are more sympathetic. One says ‘It is the beginning of the project, just cut them again so you are happy and don’t end up wasting time worrying about it” So I summon up the energy to return to the OneStopMetalShop, buy more steel and cut it to get my three sizes of plates. Some of the initial plates can be reused and the whole process takes about four days and doesn’t stop me worrying at all. Now I am worrying about the time I have left to make anything with these plates and about whether I might have gone measurement mad.
Hackney still has some industry. Each year more of it disappears to make way for more overpriced two-bedroom flats, but remnants of it persist. Around the corner from Arcane Studio, (where I do my etching), on the Hackney Road, is Daniel Lewis & Son, ‘OneStopMetalShop’. It was founded in 1797 supplying materials to carriage makers and still has some of the original shop fittings. It supplies metal and all sorts to local manufacturers, menders and makers of things. It won’t be there for much longer and I want to return to it in a later post.
I bought three 8 by 4 ft steel sheets here and carried them across the road (with help from Ian Steadman from Arcane studios), where Adam in his under-the-arches fabrication lair, cut them into pieces small enough to go into the cutter back at Arcane.
Arcane Studio is on one floor of a 1960s factory building in The Oval off Hackney Road, with a fantastic view of the gasworks on Regents Canal. It is about a mile west of Chisenhale and linked to it by the Canal. Ian has accumulated a collection of old presses and opened a printmaking studio there.
I feel as if I am immersing myself in East London’s Industrial Heritage, I may not be making anything useful, but I am making something, and it is big and requires a lot of metal and heavy physical work to make.
It seems natural for me to choose etching as my medium for this work. Many of my ideas come out of the materials and processes of etching. I love the 19th century technology of it and the substantial, material quality. It can seem close to sculpture as you remove and transform metal and press it into paper. I love the heaviness of the metal and the blackness of the blacks. It is also dirty, poisonous, physically hard and repetitive. So it seems a very appropriate medium for work inspired by this industrial site.
I decided to use a steel plate to represent each pane of glass. I have been doing a series of drawings of broken glass windows on drypoint plastic and also using shards of glass to create prints on steel plates. These have all been done by tracing directly onto the plates at real size. I would like to do this with this window, treating it as a found object to make the work from, but the practical difficulties of reaching the top of this 7m high window mean that I will have to work from photographs. However I do want to make work real size, to maintain its presence, even though that means it will be difficult to display it in one piece.
I have been looking at the broken windows at the back of Chisenhale Artplace for several years and wanting to make an art work out of them. The building was an early 20th century factory and part of it is still derelict. the huge triple height windows consisting of 77 panes of glass have been broken by generations of kids chucking stones through them. This decay of a grand example of order and industry provokes a mixture of unease and fascination – a common reaction to derelict buildings as they remind us of the transience of our own apparently secure structures.
As an artist I am particularly interested in accident and its relationship with selection and design (or intent). One theme I have been exploring is the fracture of glass. Unbroken glass is pure, simple, transparent, clean, modern, useful. The accidental or intentional violence that breaks it, damages it irreversibly, destroying its smooth transparency and reminding us of the fragility of man-made things. Its sharpness is dangerous and its complexity unwelcome. Because of this, broken glass is often used as a metaphor for the irreversible fracture of a person or society.
But complexity and imperfection has its own beauty.
Each pane has been broken on a different occasion and in a different way. This contrasts with repetitive grid structure of the windows, producing something analogous to a scientific experiment, or perhaps just the record of a series of unfortunate events.
Chisenhale Artplace has given me the use of Studio 4 for a six week residency. It is a lovely big, light studio and I plan to make a series of etchings on steel plates in response to the broken windows in the derelict part of the building. I will be using these etchings to produce a large print installation in Studio 4 at the end of my residency.