Presentation for Speaking through Stones
Fine Art Research Symposium, St. James Hatcham, Goldsmiths College
25th November 2016
O Lord Direct Us (Domine Dirige Nos), is the motto of the ‘City of London’, the irregularly shaped heart at the proximal midpoint of the capital. The boundaries form arterial protrusions north over the Golden Lane Estate and east towards Shoreditch. Once the centre point of the world for business, and awarded top spot in the Worldwide Centres of Commerce in 2008, it forms a confluence of finance within one square mile. Within is the insurance industry, central to which is Lloyds of London, the world’s leading marketplace for specialist insurance. The huddled architecture of the area, having risen and fallen and risen, a stratified formation of tightly packed buildings and irregular narrow streets, has been part cleared into the geometries of civic plazas, shot through with vertiginous glass and steel paeans to finance, housing public galleries, sculptures and foliage.
position yourself over the grids and flesh tinted buildings between Fenchurch Avenue and Leadenhall Street and drop down twisting from real virtual into virtual real through concentric circles of Capital, City of London, insurance district and in through the central atrium of Lloyds as angles and lines warp and weft street view looms with a sudden surge
lagging pixels catch up and the Underwriting Room crystallises around you. You compass a 360 degree rotation in a rush stop motion blurring partitions rectangles of glass and concrete studded with lights.… risk is being capitalised: costed and underwritten. Twelve stories of galleries look down upon an open space enclosed by glass which grids the sky, a vast conservatory resembling a net in the shape of an upturned
you are looking down on the carved rostrum housing the Lutine Bell…rung once for news of shipwrecked vessels when volatile weather conditions obscured the horizon, rendering instrumentation unreliable and navigation by the usual measures impossible
To be rooted is to be planted, to be stable, to have a certain future. To be solid, as solid as the foundation stone of a building. A building may be rooted in more than its foundations, and may be more than the sum of its bricks. Roots that reach back through the growth of a marketplace for the hedging of risk, birthed in a meeting in a coffee shop, through industrialisation and office blocks and world wars and globalisation to purpose built skyscrapers and financialised capitalism. Through a certain type of establishment, through the expectation that comes with history, reputation and class. Roots that speculate forward to the granulation of vast amounts of unstructured market data which will be anonymised, analysed, benchmarked, aggregated into value bearing units… projecting into the future through storytelling skills and insider expertise combined with Artificial Intelligence for maximum reliability, confidence and profit. Rooted now in the fabric of the building, rooted out into the hard drives, the flows of binary code, the algorithms which dance through superhighway worm holes meshing cities and continents, the vast arrays which self-regulate, which return bearing gifts.
Two moments in history, awkwardly rooted together in a jarring example of façadism: a Portland stone archway from the 1928 incarnation of the Lloyds building is situated in front of the postmodern loops and high tech polish of its current form. The Lloyds of now is also known as the ‘Inside Outside’ building, due to the decision, taken by the architect, to maximise space for market trading within The Underwriting Room, by placing all the services for the building, such as water, heating and ventilation ducts, lifts and toilet pods on the stainless steel clad exterior, leading it to be termed ‘a vast exercise in bowellism’ (1). The facade of Lloyds is not the typical seamless armour of a skyscraper, but has multiple surfaces and protrusions in a baroque and audacious display of its innards. Glass lifts chart a speedy course up and down vertical tracks, a series of loops reach up the height of the building, ducts, pipes, pillars and steel wires wrap the circumference, steel boxes are pock marked by porthole windows.
Inside the Portland stone archway on the west side of the building, is housed an inscribed foundation stone. The laying of a foundation, or cornerstone, is an event attended by ceremony, one which acknowledges the weight of a building’s significance. Historically, European and Asian religious ritual entailed a sacrifice of blood to ensure a building’s stability. Prior to animal sacrifice, where the animals blood flowed onto the foundation altar and the beast was buried underneath the stone, the practice of measuring a man’s shadow supplanted the immediate violence of literally immuring a person within the walls or beneath the foundation stone to ward against disaster and loss. A builder or shadow trader (traders who would provide architects with the shadows necessary for strengthening the building), would entice a man towards the foundation stone until his shadow fell upon it, measure the shadow and bury the measure. To bury the measure is to bury the shadow, is to bury the life and soul of the man, who, it is deemed, will die within the year (2). In creating place we displace, in rooting we uproot. Our foundation myths matter more than bodily matter, and so body, site and brick mingle.
1. Richards, J (1994) Facadism Routledge, London p.60
2. Frazer, JG & Frazer, R (2006) The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion Oxford University Press p.106-107