Playing with clay in LondonFrancesca Palange
In London, you don’t need to be a mason to create a building …
It sounds crazy but it’s true: you just needed to visit Something & Son in the Greenwich Peninsula last summer. This project, named “The People Brick’s Company”, allowed people of all ages and abilities to mould clay in order to make personalised bricks.
Each “bricklayer” could collect the clay from an overland quarry that was created nearby and then take it to the NOW Gallery to handcraft a personalised brick. In total between 3000 and 5000 bricks were created and stockpiled in special racks made using recycled wood taken from the surrounding building sites.
At the end of the summer, the bricks were then baked in the peninsula in a kiln created with the very same bricks and burnt with the very same waste wood on which they were aired for months. We were said that the bricks will be used to create a permanent ornamental structure, a folly, in the Greenwich Peninsula which will remain a symbol of traditional brickmaking in clear contrast with the surrounding high-tech buildings currently being built as part of this development project to renew the peninsula.
What is particularly meaningful about this simple idea is that the creation of the folly will represent the last opportunity to dig and mould the local clay before it disappears underneath the new buildings. This is a metaphor of the changing times, of simplicity and of the role of art in the community. Something that you can see every day, that reminds us of how architecture can be a simple and inclusive human activity. Perhaps this entire projects leaves us with a little bit of nostalgia as well.
In our society, where people are so far away from the ground, anytime connected in an invisible, even though global, net which makes people increasingly lonely, feeling the clay with our hands can be very productive and symbolic at the same time, while working together can be very useful to reconnect to reality. A return to earth in a huge metropolis, more and more surrounded by skyscrapers and high-tech buildings.
The location for this project was not chosen by chance: in the early 19th century the Greenwich Peninsula was mainly used as a brickfield site where Londoners were developing brick buildings from the same earth they were building on. It was a simple and cheap process that, just by combining mud and fire, was leading to a unique and beautiful architecture which is characteristic of London.
Gloves, wheelbarrows, buckets, small shovels and aprons: the Gallery, that normally houses artistic works by designers, artists and creatives, was invaded by these very practical tools. Children as young as four and adults got their hands dirty and enjoyed themselves playing with this natural element, clay, which was absolutely one of the most important “bricks” for the development of London’s history, and in the process, tried to created the ‘perfect brick’, which is not, by any means, the easiest task!
Text by Eletta Revelli
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