In 2013 I was invited to produce new work to accompany an exhibition at the White Building, in London's Hackney Wick. Five years previously, I'd been commissioned to make Memory Marathon, a 25 mile walk around East London's five 'Olympic boroughs', walking and talking with people who lived or worked in the area about their experiences of the Games. The resulting film presents a contrast between the extraordinary sporting feats and stadia being described by participants, and the mundane, distressed urban fabric of the city that we walked through.
The new work made for the White Building focused on this disparity between the imaginary of a regenerated city, and the lived experience of many of its residents: 'Wheels of Peacock Blue' used a simple technique to suggest that there was more to imagine, and more to fulfil, in the social imaginary that shapes our cities. Drawing decriptions of the effects of Brion Gysin's famed Dream Machine, I accompanied participants to viewpoints in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (the site of the 2012 Games).
Here, they stared out across the newly-constructed vista, with its Arcor Mital tower, the London stadium, and so on. Closing their eyes, they described to each other what they could now see: a retinal image of the scene, its colours suddenly inverted, gradually blending with sun filtering through the eyelid and eye to produce an extraordinary, dynamic, constantly shifting and morphing image. That this was then rendered into speech, only exaggerated the struggle to turn this vision into a coherent cultural artefact.
The Waterfront residency provided an opportunity to revisit this work, and to invite participation (initially) from landscape architects working on the Portlands site.
Netami and I toured the Portlands and walked to a location on the north bank of the new Don river, immediately south of the old Fire Hall on Commissioners St. Here, I asked Netami to describe what she saw when looking out over the construction site, across to the brightly-lit banks of the river, the mounds of soil, and excavation work. Once she had come to pause in her description – after about 7 minutes – I asked Netami to close her eyes, place her hands over her eyes, and continue describing what she could see. At this point, with the image of the construction site still visible as an after-image, Netami began to describe the colours and shapes of the retinal image, with its inverted colours, shifting and indistinct shapes and textures.
An recording was made using a Zoom F-1 audio-recorder with a shotgun mic, and then transcribed.
Photo from 'Wheels of Peacock Blue…' (Brada Barrasi, 2013)
I'm looking at a scene of what might be a river. There's some standing water in front of me. And I'm up high on a hill and I can see what looks like a road. And between me and the standing water is a rough dark-coloured route along the bank, along this curved embankment. Along the other side of the road or the river bed are some stepped, brown-coloured soft round terraced-like things that look like they're being held by fabric or coir fabric; they're very straight vertically, but they are very curved horizontally. They're very flat against the horizon but they're running along the curve for probably a kilometre of these terraces; and interrupting the terraces – on the same sort of slope – is a set of stone steps; and they're also flat; and there's one, two , three, four, five, six stone steps, and a flat sort of patio; and in set into the terraces… there's a lot of flashing, flickering, sparkling tapes all around on the embankment, and the embankment slopes; and everywhere where it's brown there are sparkles. I can see in the mid-distance a small bridge that looks like people – pedestrians – could walk across it; and behind that is a line of hydro-lines; a line of poles with wires strung up at the very top; and behind the stone steps in the distance against the horizon – on a sunny, sunny day – are two crane-type objects; they're very solid, not lacy as cranes normally are. They sort of look like the bottom of windmills, but cut-off at the knees. In front of those, there's a great big excavator sitting on top of a hill, and a number of excavator equipment and lots of people walking around with white helmets and orange vest with Xs on their backs. Lots of different vehicles moving things around,. I think there's some kind of pop-up tent in the distance. There are lots of piles of dirt, of different shapes: some are long, and some are triangular; some are longer; and they all look like they're about the same colour; and then a little further to the right I see a lot of poles; and I think they're masts. I don't believe they're power lines, because they have rigging coming down from them, so maybe they're stored dry-docked yachts or something; and in front of them is a great bug structure, made out of steel and it's – I know it's a bridge – but it's an operating bridge so it has two very heavy, very, very large, white weights that presumably help it to open up; but they look like shovels or teeth; and the steel of the bridge is painted green which matches nicety to the screen which is not too far from it. In the distance, against the blue, blue sky; and that screen is… I see the back of it and the back of it is greeen and rusty, and it looks like a drive-in screen; and you can't see the front part; between the screen and me, operating in one of the dirt piles is another excavator; and between the excavator and us is a kite: it's a fake bird that's tied to something and it's just sort of floating and flipping in the air against the horizon.
I'm looking also at a curved bridge; it's a pretty curve, that is obscured by some… by a line. And so now, with my hands over my eyes, the horizon that was blue has become green and everything and everything in between the horizon and me is… is very dark and murky and indistinct. Basically the only thing that i can see is shifting… a shifting horizon of the same … The sky… sky looks like the Aurora Borealis with a blood red… right above the horizon is blood red; and then there are dark grey shifting forms that create the horizon, so there are no longer … they're like piles of soil. But they're not really distinct; and now the horizon and the earth have switched colours, and the earth is glowing green and above the horizon again is grey with a blood red dawn. I can still see a patch close by me of what might have been standing water but is now a purple smudge; and the… it makes the foreground a little bit interesting… but honestly, the main thing that I see now is a green earth, and a purple horizon; and a dark grey sky. There aren't even any sparkles left. The best part about it is the colour. And if i had to live here… I guess I'd want to be flying. The horizon moves up and down; it's like the ocean or something. You can't really see where the horizon is actually, and it's quite turbulent. And you can't tell the difference between the earth and the sea and the sky. Now it's orange.