towards dawn

. . . and here it is – the advent window Luke Walker and I have created for the Nine Elms Advent Window Trail. Our window officially ‘opened’ at 5pm today and I’m very excited to share it. Please enjoy a virtual chocolate 🍫 in celebration. You can read more about the background to this project here.

All the windows are now installed and if you live in the Nine Elms/Battersea area there are several walking trails you can follow to take in the beautiful artist-designed windows. All the windows will be in place until 2nd January. The theme ‘Light in the Darkness’ seems particularly appropriate this year.

Here are a couple more photos from last week, when Luke and I went along to see our window soon after it had been installed.

Our window is no. 14 on the Advent window trail. It’s located near the south-west chimney of Battersea Power Station on Circus Road West, at the end of Circus West Village. Thanks again to the Battersea Society for sponsoring the window, and Nine Elms Arts Ministry for organising this wonderful celebration of light in dark times.

Photos by Luke M. Walker

windows (& some words) lit large

The Nine Elms Advent Calendar launches today, an initiative organised by the Nine Elms Arts Ministry, following on from their inaugural Advent Window trail last year. Back then, when we could all huddle together outside sipping mulled wine and singing carols, there was a grand unveiling each evening of a new window over the 24 days in the run up to Christmas. This year, the Advent trail has been rethought, with all the windows in place by 5th December (fingers crossed) and local people encouraged to walk the trail in their household or bubble. A different window will be highlighted each day on social media.

And, to my delight, I was invited to work with the artist Luke M Walker on a design for a window on the Battersea Power Station site. We had an initial Zoom meeting with Alex Baker from Battersea Power Station and Rev. Betsy Blatchley from the Nine Elms Arts Ministry, who between them outlined the theme – ‘Light in the Darkness’ – and roughly where on the construction site they hoped our window would be. The contractor Sir Robert McAlpine had agreed to host an Advent window in one of the yet to be completed apartments in the Foster + Partners building Battersea Roof Gardens. I was pinching myself. The idea of seeing my words, in whatever form, lit up close to Battersea Power Station, is, frankly, thrilling.

Luke and I had a chat on the phone to exchange a few first thoughts and learn a little more about each other’s practice. We share a love of walking, and have also both followed the development of the Power Station site closely over the years. Then only a few days later we went on a site visit to check out two possible locations for our Advent window. Several years ago I led tours of the Battersea Power Station construction site on the occasional Sunday afternoon (another of Alex Baker’s community initiatives) and it turns out Luke had been on one of those tours – small world! We had now to go through a similar health and safety run-through before getting decked out in hard hats, hi-vis vests and safety boots.

We set off then in a socially distanced line led by the Community Manager from Sir Robert McAlpine, with representatives from various other departments and subcontractors. We crossed a footbridge and then via a security turnstile accessed the vast construction site, with highly skilled labouring going on all around us, mud underfoot, and the structural innards of new buildings towering above us. We entered what will be Battersea Roof Gardens at the Battersea Park Road end, walking through long void spaces, up a few storeys in a construction hoist, down several rough flights of stairs (me running a hand along the safety rail, trying to focus on each step and NOT think about the time I fell on the stairs at home), and finally to the north end of the building, right near the south-west corner of the Power Station, where the first apartments are being finished and windows are already in place.

There followed discussions between Luke and the different operatives about the best way of installing our design (once we’d come up with it!) and how to light it. We looked at the two options and agreed on our preferred one – the apartment with two floor to ceiling windows next to each other. Luke took lots of measurements and then we headed back to the Sir Robert McAlpine reception to return our safety gear. I was buzzing from all the stimuli on site, so it was good then to walk together through the publicly accessible parts of the site and see the building – and ‘our’ windows – from the outside. They’re a couple of storeys up, so I knew whatever I wrote would have to be quite short so the words could be printed large enough to be visible from the pavement opposite the building. We got a takeaway coffee and sat on the coaling jetty in front of Battersea Power Station discussing ideas and more broadly the changes we’ve both seen locally over the years.

The following day I sat at my desk and started jotting down some words. Part of our brief was to include the word LIGHT somewhere in the design. I was thinking too about how to write a text that would work across the two windows. I played around with some short forms and finally settled on a mesostic – a variation on an acrostic, in this form the letters in the middle of each line spell out a word when read downwards. I emailed it to Luke and happily he loved it! Since then, most of the work has been on Luke’s plate. He’s come up with a beautiful design, going for a ‘less is more’ approach; and then there’s all the technical and logistics side, how to print it and apply it to the windows, how to light it, and liaising with the different contractors involved. We’re hopefully on track to have it in place by 5th December and I really can’t wait to see it up there, beaming out to passers-by.

location of the windows

As soon as it’s up I’ll post some photos. In the meantime, if you’re local to the Battersea/Nine Elms area do check out the Advent Window Trail. There’s a wonderful variety of responses to the theme and it’s been very uplifting to be involved. It’s also a great way to find new corners of this part of London. And if you’re not local you can still follow the trail online, via the Nine Elms Arts Ministry’s social media channels:

Twitter @9ElmsArtsRev
Instagram @NineElmsArtsMinistry  
Facebook page /NineElmsArtsMinistry 

plus regular project updates via the Facebook Event page

My thanks to Alex at Battersea Power Station, Betsy at Nine Elms Arts Ministry, The Battersea Society, and contractors at Battersea Power Station for this opportunity and making it happen. Thanks for your light in these dark times!

getting ‘indoors looking out’ out there

It’s a month since Stephen Graham and I took delivery of our booklet indoors looking out.  I’m delighted that I’ve already sold enough copies to be able to donate £25 to Refuge.

Wandsworth Heritage Service interviewed us – remotely – for their Archives from Home blog. Emma the Archivist emailed me some questions and I texted these to Stephen for his answers. You can read the piece here.

I was also interviewed for the ArtsWatch programme on Riverside Radio, via Skype, which was fun. Towards the end of our chat, the reporter Bev suggested we try to compose a haiku together there and then, which rather threw me. Usually I need coffee, and time to mull and muse with my pen on paper. But after I got over my initial stage fright, we managed to come up with a haiku about our Skype call! The interview is available on Soundcloud.

The feedback we’ve both received has been uplifting. Poet Josephine Corcoran posted this lovely response on Instagram:

Josephine Corocoran Instagram post

And poet friend Claire Booker emailed to say:

Your joyful pamphlet has safely arrived, and is lighting up a corner of my living room. It must have been such fun waiting to see what Stephen would come up with from your created words Your pen and page has certainly colluded well!  I’m very tempted to take some of my favourites out of the pamphlet and put them on my wall. But that would be sacrilege.

One of Stephen’s friends, John Paul Ekins, texted him:

I wanted to write to you to tell you how much we all (I have shared them with many friends) absolutely loved the book of illustrated poems you dropped over the other day. The poems themselves are wonderful (we especially enjoyed the one about the geese and the one with the clouds frolicking like lambs) but really it was your creativity and imagination in the way they are set and illustrated that makes them truly special. Congratulations, a stunning piece of work.

It really is gratifying to see how our work resonates with others. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy so far – and it’s not too late to get hold of a copy for you or a friend!

indoors looking out – out now!

9781527263192

Fanfare!! Here it is, the fruit of my collaboration with the artist Stephen Graham, an A5 booklet of haiku and tanka written under lockdown. The poems draw on observations from my second-floor window of minute changes and fleeting interactions.

Stephen has created a new script inspired by a book of St Cuthbert’s held in the British Library and the Nagari script used in parts of India. There are 28 full colour pages, one poem per page, and the booklet is decorated throughout. Our local printers, PowerPrint, have done a wonderful job. The booklet, in my totally biased opinion, is lush. The look, the feel – and the words, well, you can judge for yourself if you buy a copy.

I really love Stephen’s artwork. At one point during our exchange – mostly carried out by text message – Stephen texted me: ‘our styles fit – you push people to find your meaning, and my odd letters slow people down to thinking pace!’ That’s spot on. Collaborating on this project has given both of us a focus during difficult days. We hope what we’ve made together will resonate with other people.

I am donating £1 per sale to Refuge and Stephen’s proceeds will go to UNHCR for Syrian refugees.