Wentworth works primarily with photography and sculpture. His work, which often takes encounter as its theme, frequently constitutes an encounter in itself. Photographically speaking, Wentworth’s images home in on an accidental beauty – the pleasing simplicity of conceit in people’s clever modifications and adaptations of objects for uses beyond their intended function. His ongoing series Making Do and Getting By, for instance, includes images of everything from a boot acting as a doorstop, a chair and pole serving as a parking barrier, to a coffee mug serving as a window prop. Captured and compiled over more than four decades, Making Do and Getting By seems a sharp launch pad from which to embark on an investigation of Wentworth’s fascination with the Metropolis.
Richard Wentworth's Concertina at London City Island
Richard Wentworth is fascinated by cities. For decades, he has relished their chaos, contrasts and connections, frequently employed as sources of material and inspiration for his practice. The repeated stimulation of exploring urban areas has forged Wentworth into a keen observer, eager to identify, document and respond to just about everything and anything a city has to offer. Now over 70 and active for more that 40 years, his art combines personal experiences with a distinct visual style. For his viewer, the power of Wentworth’s work lies in its application of new perspectives to familiar objects, circumstances and scenarios.
Richard Wentworth is fascinated by cities. For decades, he has relished their chaos, contrasts and connections, frequently employed as sources of material and inspiration for his practice.
Before Concertina came Black Maria. Created in 2013, in collaboration with Swiss architects GRUPPE, Wentworth’s Black Maria was named after Thomas Edison’s 1893 movie production studio (America’s first). Made of timber and assembled for the atrium of Central Saint Martins’ King’s Cross building, Black Maria was part stage set, part meeting area, and part auditorium. Incorporating an inherent utility with an aesthetic agenda, the nature of the structure blurred the boundaries of art with those of functional spaces. As well as something made to be admired, Black Maria became a place from which visitors could observe its surrounding activity, too. Bird watch and bath, both.
As well as something made to be admired, Black Maria became a place from which visitors could observe its surrounding activity, too. Bird watch and bath, both.
Wentworth’s newest work, Concertina, was created with the architects APPARATA. As with Black Maria, Concertina is designed to facilitate a coming-together, and constitutes a proposal for reimagining the potential of vacant public space. For centuries, people have used institutions like churches and pubs in which to meet and define themselves. Of course, religion and commerce both have ulterior motives in gathering their respective congregations – Wentworth, though, is keen on keeping things pure. Gather, for gathering’s sake.
Nowadays, and particularly in the midst of metropolis, there remain very few defined places with undefined uses. The current price of real estate alone dictates that an empty plot of land is termed a missed opportunity rather than an excuse to meander and sit awhile. It seems clear to me that Wentworth laments the social implications this has on our fast-paced modern lives, and quietly extends the offer of an antidote. Concertina, by its very nature, encourages and accommodates working, playing, acting, meeting, dancing; talking, weeping, sitting or pondering, alone or together as the case may be. By refusing to dictate how it is used, Concertina maintains the status of Tabula Rasa. Wentworth describes it as “a laboratory, a place where meetings will undoubtedly happen” and “somewhere to be remembered for the quality of its encounters”; ultimately, though, it is the public who will define it.
Concertina occupies arebyte’s new London City Island space, opened earlier this year. The main gallery, workspaces and studios sit upriver in Hackney Wick and have become a vital creative resource devoted to nurturing and developing artists working across a variety of topics and in a range of mediums. Sitting in a re-appropriated corner storefront, the new gallery is flanked by the buzz of London on two sides, and by the River Lea on its third. The space itself has been left unfinished, with raw concrete block walls and exposed columns throughout. It feels temporary, like a hastily assembled pop-up taking advantage of what was there to be had.
Concertina has been crafted in a straightforward, repetitive manner: it includes a series of pine timber bleachers with plywood treads and risers supported by a structural timber frame. In a nod to the site’s past life as a district of shipbuilders, these bleachers are referred to as ‘companionways’, which on ships provide passage from one deck to another. They can thus be considered both as places of movement (stairs) and pause (seating) at once. Two of the companionways have been installed next to one another, facing opposite directions; the third sits perpendicular to the others against a wall. Their positioning creates internal and external focal points, generative of the dialogue and interaction which Wentworth is so interested in fostering.
When I visited on a grey weekday afternoon the gallery was devoid of visitors; in my mind’s eye, however, Concertina was populated by people tapping away at laptops, children lapping its perimeter, and groups assembling to put the world to rights. I particularly like the idea of two acquaintances spying each other at opposite ends and meeting somewhere in the middle; a designated space to congregate, after all, allows for the possibility of chance meetings. To both supplement and animate the space, arebyte has devised a curated events program to accompany Concertina’s presence, and accepts bookings for every conceivable use and activity ranging from book clubs to karate classes. Alternatively, you can simply walk in and use it - just like Wentworth intended. I suspect he’d prefer it that way.
By Nathaniel Moore.