Thursday, December 31st 2015
Tigger had a glint in her eye when we set off this morning. She let me know she was taking me somewhere special but that was all. Our journey led us to the mouth of the River Lea.
Our destination was a strange little enclave called Trinity Buoy Wharf, but from East India Dock DLR station, we first had to walk to the Thames where I took this panoramic view.
This area is part of the district generally known as Docklands which has been extensively redeveloped since its original purpose – loading and unloading the cargoes of trading ships from all over the world – came to an end. To the left of the photo you can see the Millennium Dome, the remnant of one of the government’s less felicitous projects, and one that has left it (and us) with an expensive white elephant.
To reach our destination, we had to walk through an area called Orchard Place. This has a history of it own and we will perhaps return to explore it another time. One of the first things we found here was what appeared to be a London black cab. Wait – there is a tree growing through it! This is in fact a work of art by sculptor Andrew Baldwin and the tree is made of metal.
A little further along, we found this evocative portrait by street artist Irony. The wall surface is crumbling away so the painting’s days are numbered. In any case, it might be painted over with another artwork at some point so I am glad to have captured it while it is still with us.
This solidly painted work is by Bruce Mahalski and is entitled Electric Soup. I doubt whether all (if any) of the creatures depicted can be found in the Thames but I suppose we can allow painters their share of poetic licence.
The fishy theme continues with this large suspended fish. It seems to be made with a covering over a skeleton and is light enough to swing as the wind blows. I do not know the name of the artist or artists.
This amusingly self-referential wall painting is unmistakeably by Fanakapan. He specializes in painting what appear to be inflated silver balloons in the form of letters, complete with their shadows and highlights. They are very realistic and there is often a twist as here with the exploding third letter.
Thus we arrived at Trinity Buoy Wharf itself. The site was developed from 1803 by the Corporation of Trinity House, the company responsible for buoys, lighthouses and lightships. The Wharf closed in 1988 and was bought by the London Docklands Development Corporation and is currently leased to Urban Space Management.
And here is what Tigger had brought me to see: a 1940s American diner! (The structure behind it is the lamp of a lightship, currently serving as a recording studio.)
When we went to New York last year (see New York 2014), I found the place completely inimical to me. On the second day, we discovered the New Apollo Diner in Brooklyn and sitting in a booth there was the first time I felt comfortable and at ease. We returned several times and since then I have retained an affection for the American diner, particularly the older ones.
It seems that others share my enthusiasm and a quick search on Google shows that there are now many diners, some real and some artificial, all over the UK. Visitors to Fatboy’s can be confident that it is the real thing, transported by some magic into which I did not enquire, to Trinity Buoy Wharf.
The diner has the bar and serving area in the middle with a row of bar stools in front of it and, at either end, several booths. We sat right at one end so as to have a view of the whole. The friendly waitress, I noticed, was dressed appropriately to match the retro decor.
The diner is of a movable or transportable design – was it once a train carriage? – but I don’t know its history. It has been seen in other locations before finding a mooring in the Wharf. Because of its design, space is a little restricted but once seated I was confortable enough and would happily return to enjoy its unique (to us Brits, at least) decor and atmosphere.
After our ‘diner experience’ we explored the Wharf. I noticed that there were two metal figures perched on the façade of a building. I could find no title or artist name but, if I had to make a guess, I would suggest Andrew Baldwin who works in metal and is responsible for most of the art in the Wharf.
The Wharf has a lighthouse. A lighthouse? Why on earth would there be a lighthouse? It is claimed to be the only one in London and the explanation for its presence is that it was built by Trinity House for training lighthouse keepers and for carrying out experiments on such things as improved lighting schemes or testing lamps before putting them in service.
This lighthouse is in fact the survivor of a pair, the first of which was built in 1854 and demolished in the 1920s. It was famously used by Michael Faraday as a laboratory in which to develop the electric lighting for the South Foreland Lighthouse in Kent. Today’s lighthouse was built in 1864.
The lighthouse can be visited. We climbed the stairs to the top, the old lamp room. There’s nothing in there now and the more interesting view was the one through the window. (This is an untrimmed stitched picture.)
On what might be called the first floor of the lighthouse we find an array of 234 ‘singing bowls’, metal bowls that ring like bells, each with a single clear note. Together they can be used to play music. The set is a component part of the project known as Longplayer.
Longplayer is a work of musical art and an installation. Briefly, it is a musical composition, composed by Jem Finer, that is designed to take 1,000 years to play completely. Yes, you read that correctly: 1,000 years. Computers are used to combine sections from six pieces of music in such a way that no combination will be repeated for one thousand years. That is the basic idea and it comes with a lot of philosophical blah about time, physics, cosmology and human life that you either buy into or you don’t.
So, what is the music like? Do we enjoy a merry millennial tune? It depends on your musical tastes. To me it sounded like a set of random notes played at random intervals, not something I could get excited about. Future generations may be more receptive. If you want more information about Longplayer, you will find it here.
Beside the lighthouse is what might be taken for a garden shed but for the notice above the door reading ‘THE FARADAY EFFECT’. It is, I suppose, an art installation in honour of the famous scientist who did important work in the Wharf. Inside is what I might call a ‘proto-museum’, a collection of articles connected with the scientist.
Scattered around the Wharf, you find a number of metal sculptures by Andrew Baldwin. They are all mechanical in character – or, at least, look as though they are machines that might be made to work – but their intention is obviously artistic, and perhaps humorous, rather than practical. I could find labels on only two of them so you will have to take the rest untitled.
My final ‘catch’ of the visit was a painting. The style immediately declared the name of the painter, Paul Don Smith.
Tigger’s idea was a good one. In fact, I would call it an inspiration! Perhaps we will return another day and again enjoy Fatboy’s Diner and wander among the sculptures of Trinity Buoy Wharf.