Ian Chamberlain – Shifting Sands
The spectres that haunt post-war Europe loom large but this perspective on the world is just as relevant to our lives right now as it is the legacy of the twentieth-century. Since Tuesday 24th March, for instance, the day Boris Johnson officially placed London on lockdown, I found a new appreciation for the eerie view outside my window.
South-east London is mostly made up of lowrises. The tower blocks are infrequent and make the view outside dynamic. Depending on which way you’re facing, the skyline is dominated either by Canary Wharf or the Shard. Each has its uses. The Shard acts as a waypoint, a giant compass arrow pointed north. Canary Wharf serves as a constant reminder of what keeps this city moving: money. And yet, in our present moment, the function of these buildings, whether in actuality or as signifiers for city life, fade away. What we are left with, in the vacuum of present inactivity, is form.
This is a far more positive experience of the outside world than I was expecting. This is not the empty London of 28 Days Later, but an eerie London brimming with possibility. As the reality of lockdown sank in, I had expected to feel like James Stewart in Rear Window, watching the comings and goings of the neighbourhood like a photographic paranoiac. In fact, from our vantage point, we cannot see into the windows of our neighbours’ buildings at all. Everything is still and strangely fixed, preserved in resin for the time being. It is only the foxes that come out at night, in a new abundance, to reclaim the streets. During the day, the unbuilt that remains to be visualised threatens to emerge from our future interactions and how we might later engage with these spaces and each other once the lockdown is lifted.
As we look forward to returning to some form of normality, bringing people and art back into our gallery space, perhaps with The Atlantic WalL we can bring a little of this mystery back with us too. After all, it is here, in the eeriness of now, that the seed of a new way of life might be planted.