Exhibited 21 April - 12 May 2017 Skylights

by Ken Wilder

 

Film and photographic documentation of an installation in the London Foundling Hospital Mortuary

 

The film and photographic series that comprises this inaugural exhibition at the Upright Gallery in Edinburgh documents an in-situ art installation within the London Foundling Hospital mortuary, in Bloomsbury. The work, Skylights, comprises the original installation and the supporting documentation, the latter conceived as integral to the conception of the project. As such, the exhibition chronicles a building that in the process of being demolished to make way for a national centre of excellence for the care of children (see below). The documentation therefore functions as an ongoing memorial to the children whose fate was tragically linked to this unremarkable, yet poignant outbuilding.

 

Skylights was commissioned by Coram (formerly the Thomas Coram Foundation) to celebrate a new phase in Coram’s campus redevelopment, and the construction stage of The Queen Elizabeth II Centre, a major architectural project designed by Phillip Meadowcroft Architects. Coram is the oldest UK children’s charity, and has been supporting vulnerable children for more than 275 years. It is a direct continuation of what was once the London Foundling Hospital, founded in 1742 by Thomas Coram. The charity continues to help over a million children and young people every year. Coram helps children and young people develop their skills and emotional health, finds adoptive parents and upholds children’s rights.

 

One poignant factor of the old mortuary is that boys and girls were separated even in death. Timed to mark the summer solstice, Wilder’s light and water installation flooded the boys and girls’ rooms, inserting two new skylights: one oriented towards the midday sun, and one to the evening sun. Children were invited to splash in the puddle rooms, while adults were invited to reflect upon the deeper significance of the historic spaces.

 

The installation thus set out to reanimate a space inexorably linked to loss. Indeed, the very need for the on-site mortuary, an outbuilding of the then ‘new’ infirmary (c. 1892-4), was prompted by the high rates of nineteenth century infant mortality. The commission for the infirmary followed the outbreak of 35 cases of typhoid fever at the Foundling Hospital, between October 6th and December 14th 1891. The installation sought to acknowledge this history, while simultaneously celebrating life. It reanimated a space that for many years had functioned as a general purpose store, filled up with anything from paint to garden equipment.

 

In opening up the voids to the sky, Skylights (metaphorically) allowed the spirits of the children to rise up out of the building prior to its demolition. This can be imagined through the extraordinary pattern of reflected light, where periodically, and at particular times of the day, the shafts of sunlight hit the water that fills the two spaces. The time lapse images document one of the spaces over 196 minutes as the midday sun enters the space. The film, meanwhile, records ambient sounds of the site. These include shouts from the nearby football pitches, children playing on Coram Fields, and the constant passage of planes. But the ambient sounds include birdsong and the rustle of leaves, emanating from the extraordinary trees that grew within the original Foundling Hospital gardens. Onto this sound track is overlaid György Ligeti’s 1966 Lux Aeterna, a Requiem Mass for 16 voices, which ends with the words: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them).

 

The Artist

Dr Ken Wilder is Reader in Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London

 

The artist would like to thank the following from Coram: Dr Carol Homden (Chief Executive Officer), Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent (Director of Operations), Velou Singara (Chief

Finance Officer), David Mendez, Poppy Wyman, Carol Harris, Mohamed Chakour, plus many others.

 

The artist would also like to thank: Fangyu Cheng, Ian Farmer, Kit Fretz, Emma Hunter, Keunhye Lee, Aaron McPeake, Phil Meadowcroft.

 

Many MA Interior and Spatial Design students helped install, including: Amira Baraka, Francesco Basini Gazzi, Sonia Bensouda, Owain Caruana-Davis, Punika Chaiyawat, Carolina

Dirdjohadi, Yen-Wen Lu, Giulia Marzuoli, Sarah Stollery, Yingying Yuan, Yanling Wang.

 

Finally, many thanks to Francis Thornburn for his invaluable help in constructing the skylights.

 

Upright Gallery  |  3 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 4HP  |  0131 221 0265  |  07969 886 183  |

 

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