The Shanghai Urban Space Art Season (SUSAS) is a biannual art festival. In 2017 it took place in an incredible former grain silo on Shanghai’s Huangpu River, where we were proud to co-curate the festival’s London Pavilion with Jeremy Till (Head of College at Central Saint Martins (CSM)) and Martyn Ware (founding member of legendary synth bands Human League and Heaven 17, director of Illustrious Company, and Practitioner in Residence at CSM).
Our installation for the London Pavilion, ‘Liquid Histories’, explored the tension between how the River Thames is often imagined and its reality; a public space which is increasingly becoming privatised through recent economic developments. The installation reflected on the River Thames not only as a foundational source for the city and an untamed natural power, but also as a public space of the imagination. We used sound, text and films to immerse visitors in stories – both real and imagined – about the river.
The key part of our design for the installation was a Thames-shaped bench, which matched the undulations of the river from the city centre out towards east London. The Thames has always been present in London’s narrative history, and today, it acts as a witness to profound and often brutal change which continues to transform the city. We installed brass plaques engraved with facts, figures, statistics and stories along the length of the bench to present the evolution of the riverside landscape and map these developmental changes.
A Thames-inspired soundscape, composed by Martyn Ware, and a set of beautiful documentary films with drone footage of the river, made by the young talent Dominic Green (a then-recent CSM graduate), came together to produce a vivid environment in which visitors could experience the many meanings of the Thames and its dynamic relationship to London. We were also grateful for research and build support from CSM architecture students.
We saw this biennale as an important platform to bring local stories to an international audience, share lessons and find common ground. Our hope with ‘Liquid Histories’ was to allow visitors to make connections to their own situations, while experiencing something of London and the River Thames.
Shanghai Urban Space Art Season (SUSAS)