DescensionMixed media installation
Installation information & images to follow
Composed upon Vauxhall Bridge, March 9, 2020
a sketch of a Londoner
a fictional account of true situations
There’s a tower in Vauxhall, an illuminated cylinder I call The Vape. Someone told me it has a Russian wooden chapel and swimming pool entombed in its penthouse, owned by an oligarch I imagine has never visited. At least, I’ve never seen his lights on. You never see many lights inside, the rooms seem absent of life, no silhouettes. But the outside and top of The Vape still shine, vertical luminous lines shoot from the ground upwards, locking to a glowing halo at the summit. I have no idea why, but looking around it seems all the new buildings here glow in their own way, and I don’t know who for. Not for me, I quite like the darkness to be honest. And surely those inside - if anyone is - can’t see the exterior from their flat. So I don’t know.
They used to excite me. When the first crane appeared I thought things would improve, that the street might be cleaned. The first tower had a glow, and it gave me one. I could glimpse it in the corner of my window, a bit of warmth in the frame. At dusk, soft lights on its facade slowly replaced the dimming sun, and I thought it looked rather beautiful, like it was for me, a small addition to my framed view. And then another grew to its side. And another. And slowly my rectangle became more full of these contrastingly lit erections, and the lights changed from a soothing offer into something altogether more threatening. I then realised that they weren’t illuminated for me, but for their own power. Each new building trying to glow in a more identifiable and overpowering way.
I have always lived in London, and have seen it change. And felt it change me, contort me with its convections, compress me with its capital. I feel like a shadow of what I once was, and will soon be compulsory purchased out of my city, the room I have been in for twenty years is now deemed somebody else’s area of opportunity. It isn’t much as rooms go, but has a window from which I could glimpse a long view past angular industrial roofs and onwards to the city, shifting reflections off Millbank, the flag of Westminster. A quarter of my frame was filled with sky, and how I loved staring at that sky from bed. The slow decline and ascent of the light helping structure a fragile day, offering delicate connections from outside to in. But I lost it to Donatella Versace. A lumpen tower - I’m told she co-designed - has compressed itself between me and the view, the flag, the sky. Now I stare straight into Donatella’s illuminated innards, laying on bed I watch a relentless flow of architectural fragments being craned heavenwards past my window. I used to enjoy laying there in the evening, watching blue and white skies gradiate to black. I can’t see the black now, Versace and her friends squeezing in, constantly project their presence through my window with their glow, into my mind.
It has, at least, forced me outside. I find myself walking in search of the night. As I leave my flat, I linger on the doorstep. From the threshold, as I prepare to go further, I see “BRITISH INTERPLANETARY SOCIETY” on a nearby building, endlessly flickering with
headlights of cars and lorries centrifuging Vauxhall. Sometimes I stand there, watching lights go round and round. And round. But tonight I went further. Past Donatella, and towards The Vape, circumnavigating the bus station, avoiding the people. I hear it’s also to be culled soon, in the name of opportunity, and its skyward solar panelled roof will be no more, no doubt replaced by more luxurious towers emitting light rather than absorbing.
Looking towards the building site that was once Nine Elms is to witness frozen fireworks fighting for bright attention. I have seen pictures of the buildings that are now just foundations, or yet to be started, and they get ever shinier, like the lights are the structure holding up flats, making shape and the meaning. I skirt the edge of riverside buildings that look better in dusk than day, and find the bridgehead. The dark views open up here, I like it. I know tourists might stop on our bridges to gaze upon the sunlit city, to steal photos of the skyline, but for me these vistas are richer at night. The sun now set, it’s the hinterland period between natural and artificial light, direct sun and refracted moon. I prefer my city in this half-light, as the darkness slowly crawls up and over the buildings.
There is a supermoon rising, doing all it can to tease light into crevices. It pulled me from my room, as it pulls the tides now beneath me. I guess we used to be more connected to the celestial city than this one, perhaps that is what I am looking for. A connection, clarification, coordination, conversation. Earlier, the supermoon had risen directly behind Canary Wharf, centring and silhouetting the pyramid roof. In the morning, after I have gone, the same supermoon will sink between the four chimneys of Battersea, cradling its departure. The city as celestial henge, if we look to see such patterns. I guess collisions like this are accident not design, but we have to look for meaning, in case we find it.
Like many through history, I come to the night for the stargazing, to see clusters of flickering lights in the black sky. I like to read the constellations, to see what animalistic or mythical figure is dotted out. Sometimes I imagined I could see Virgo, Aquarius, or Capricorn. Sometimes I see new characters, invented starsigns, perhaps pointing to a new astrology, other mythologies. Sometimes I see faces, friendly faces. But then I walk further along, or around a corner, look back up and see the face has changed, looking down with disdain. They are unreliable, these faces. These lights I gaze to, though, are not real stars but urban constellations formed of red pinpricks, and are everywhere once you properly look into the city night. They are fixed to the edges of towering buildings, they sit at the very top. And they are on every crane, red markers along extremities, shifting arrangement each night, conjugating in London’s dark. To the south, what was Nine Elms is London’s Milky Way, a mesmerising cluster. North, I see another gathering afar, red pixels in black above flickering outlines of city, foreshadowing new shapes to come. Along the South Bank I see countless configurations, dense masses floating.
By day I find the battalions of cranes oppressive, symbols of my impending exile. They may have the poise of delicate ballerinas dancing between, but the grace belies a brutality. But once I started my nightwalking, and the cranes compress into darkness, the red lights of their spines and fingertips transform into delicate arrangements of discrete red specks, and everything just seemed lighter. But it seems that now, with my nighttime city getting brighter and brighter, I can see these dots for what they are, diagrams of a future I am not invited to, an astrology of exile.
Under the supermoon, I stand in the middle of Vauxhall Bridge, gazing around at all the surrounding red-light constellations, fearful of the astrological predictions I read into them, looking down into broken reflections in the darker-than-night waters.