‘Site-specific’ is an art term that gets tossed around so much it’s near enough lost all meaning. Felicity Hammond’s new installation, ‘World Capital’, however, is genuinely worthy of that two-word descriptor.
Occupying the entire one-room space of the Arebyte Gallery, the wood and metal artwork presents a fractured modern cityscape, the type of wipe-clean corporate banality found in cities across the globe. In between the blocky structures are black pools of water, not dissimilar to the type of urban water feature that used to be at, say, the More London complex near the Mayor’s office.
The architecture pictured not only fits neatly with the gallery space and its ceiling maze of fat metallic pipes – it perfectly mirrors the built environment outside the main doors.
Arebyte is part of London City Island, a blob of land the River Lea (a tributary of the Thames) squidges around like squeezed-out toothpaste. Currently partly a building site, the area is being rapidly redeveloped into ‘an exclusive island neighbourhood’. The London City Island website sells a vision of urban paradise where bobble-hatted Londoners making money in the creative industries work, rest and play in a ‘twelve-acre micro-Manhattan’.
This hasn’t always been the case. LCI used to go by the much less attractive name of ‘Bog Island’ because it often flooded. The pools of water in Hammond’s installation actually reference the Great Thames flood of 1928 when the area got submerged.
Hammond’s installation doesn’t simply criticise or satirise what’s happening around Arebyte and in London more widely. Instead, it subtly and cleverly draws your attention to just how disconcerting and weird these hyper-sterilised international Nowherevilles are. And, precisely because they’re so ultra samey, you almost don’t notice their bacteria-like spread until you’re standing smack-up against an elite living block of flats dribbling cold brew down your chin. Go visit, but don’t be surprised if the little red bridge across to Canning Town tube suddenly feels like a lifeline back to something far less strange.