Last Friday we held our second Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event on the topic of River. We met at Hermitage Moorings in Wapping (where one of the participants is a founder member) and spent a short time introducing ourselves and our interests in the topic. Taking part were Anne Lydiat, Aleaxandra McGlynn, Aurelia McGlynn-Richon, Ben Eastop, Martin Fidler, Fred Garnett and myself. I had prepared a map with a possible route for us to take from our point of origin back to Proboscis’ studio and this served as a useful conversation point about the nature of the river as a channel for transportation, habitation, pleasure, boundary, margin and about the city’s push/pull relationship with it.
View City As Material Series 2010 in a larger map
Whilst sitting in the Hermitage Pier House, then on Anne’s boat in the river the conversation flowed across these issues of liminality and tension – about how the city has slowly encroached on the river, fixing artificial banks where it previously had a wide flood plain, such that we are now concerned about that flood plain being at risk with rising sea levels. Ben, who also lives on the river, spoke of how his home is different every day, changing position with the tide and weather; he also talked of the enormous variation that the sky, light and weather has on the character of the water and its constantly changing surface.
From Hermitage we then walked west along the Thames Path via St Katherine Dock, the Tower of London, Customs House, Old Billingsgate to Queenhithe, where we turned north and cut through the City, St Pauls, St Barts and Smithfield to arrive at the studio.
We talked about how the city so often seems to turn its back on the river, to build buildings that look inward to the city, and how its is only recently, with the shift in the Port of London to Tilbury that Londoners have at last begun to reclaim access to the river from what were previously commercial wharves and stairs. As it was low tide at 12.30pm we were able to include some beachcombing/ mudlarking with our walk – finding the ubiquitous clay pipe stems and pottery shards from earlier centuries, as well as the ever present animal bones, tiles and chalk. we shared stories and bits of knowledge about these stairs, their uses, the hidden rivers flowing out into the Thames.
Arriving back at the studio we began collating the drawings, objects, ideas, writings and photographs that had been created along the way and started to sketch out the structure of the collaborative publication – Ebb and Flow – which is now available. There is also a City As Material group on Flickr, and a Twitter hashtags – #cityasmaterial – to continue the discussions.