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British Airways building was designed as a type of village with theme
sectors that reflected all of the places where the airline flies.
There is the Africa house, Asia house, and house of the Americas,
all of which I found very sci-fi and utopian. It was also built on
the site of an historic village. The archae-ologists had found lots
of interesting debris while excavating for the building, which inspired
the main narrative. Also, at the same time I read a fictional story,
written in the late 1800s, about London being awash in water. So
the three elements combined in this piece to form a loose narrative
of a woman in one dimension looking for her mother in another.
PA Mech. voice System All new arrivals please
report to station 8. Tolerance is a virtue.
sfx of running water in fake stream beside bench
Janet Sometimes sitting beside
a stream or a river I think I hear voices, words formed by the changes
in the current.
Janet I’m looking for
someone. I know she’ll eventually return here.
Janet Walk past the fountain,
down the stairs and into the square. The security guards are watching
us from the tower.
scary music and then a voice from movie
Voice Alright, you
ain’t gonna escape.
PA Mech. voice System All
personnel in Africa House please report to Station 10. A good beginning
is half the work. A work well-begun is half done.
Janet There are
a lot of people on the bridge, little shops, with advertising banners
hanging down, wooden structures with people living in them. Kids running
Older Woman I carried you
in my arms, making the trip into the city by foot. The cars had been
abandoned. Heaps of metal beside the road. There was only enough room
in the boats for the children. I remember your fingers grasping at
my face, your open mouth screaming.
Man’s vox reading
in film noir-type voice “You might find these interesting,” he
says as he drops the package onto my desk. A stack of handwritten letters,
individually wrapped in clear plastic envelopes. Water has gotten into
some of them and the writing is blurred. They’ve been found in
the river over the last six months, he tells me. I unwrap the top one
carefully and look over it. A fine, old-fashioned handwriting. I glance
up at the date; June 15, 2011. “Ha, some kind of practical joke” … I
look up at him. He’s not smiling … “Just look them
over and tell us what you think he says.”
the very first moment of her walk in Münster, I became both haunted
and intrigued by Janet Cardiff ’s work. I was determined to find
a project that she would find stimulating and want to do with us
at Artwise. At the time we were working on a very challenging program
for British Airways at their new headquarters near Heathrow Airport
at Waterside. It was the only building in the first new park to be
built in the London region since Victorian times. It is an extensive
and hilly moorland park with streams, wildflowers, and two lakes
attracting wildlife, especially birds. The widely acclaimed Waterside
building was designed by the Norwegian architect, Niels Thorp, and built
around the concept of an indoor street. It was paved with reclaimed
cobble stones, lined with trees, cafes and seating areas, and included
a small supermarket, a bank and, of course, a travel center. It was
one of the first attempts at embracing the concept of “hot desking,” which
means that employees are not bound to a desk and instead carry their
laptops and phones to wherever they need to be or are comfortable.
and I first met at Heathrow and we had arranged to take her straight
to Waterside so she could see the building in daylight. She liked
the site and cathedral-like aspects of the interior street. The Waterside
Walk takes participants along the street to a pavement cafe, up a
lift and across a bridge to a crow’s
nest high above the busy street. During World War II the area was
used as a camp for the Canadian Air Force, and there is even a memorial
in the park commemorating the dead that Janet weaves into her story.
Layered sounds create a fragmented narrative that evokes imagined
histories and memories, a past, a present, and a future. It is composed
from snippets of conversation recorded on site, samples of choral
music sung by the people who work there and their children, as well
as the sounds of war, and Janet’s inimitable voice. The most notable
element in the legacy of Janet’s work with the building and the
walk is the British Airways Choir. Following from her observations
about cathedral-like qualities of the street, she sent a message
through the company asking for singers. It generated a sense of pride
about the walk amongst the workers. A year later I visited the building
around Christmas time to discover a quite substantial choir singing
in the street to an enthralled audience watching and listening from
the cafes, bridges and walkways. It was quite magical and I think
Janet would be amused and happy at what her Waterside Walk had seeded.
Audio walk, 5 minutes
Curated by Susie Allen of Artwise for British