25 years ago, I was in the cordoned off area when the IRA Bishopsgate bomb went off. It killed one person, caused extensive damage and was the catalyst to much societal change. I embarked on a project to mark the anniversary of this life changing event. I started by revisiting the site. It bought up many false memories notably of scale and distance.
Buildings smaller, the street narrower, the centre of the blast closer and the run to safety shorter than I remembered. The City of London had changed dramatically in a quarter of a century yet the more time I spent being in that space, the more I felt a sense of familiarity and belonging. I became interested in the liminality during the ‘event’. The scariest moment had been those, I don’t know how many, seconds, of the vacuum. The sound. The in-breath. The depth of the sound. Distortion of memory on a temporal level, it lasted, at the time, a really long time. A Duchampian-Burden definition of liminality about potential imminent mortality became one focus of the project.
Right at the outset, I had secured the perfect exhibition venue; the 13thcentury medieval church of St Ethelburgas which had been totally demolished by the blast and rebuilt as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They graciously offered me the venue, at no cost, for an exhibition to take place on the day of the 25thanniversary. On a preliminary site visit, the venue afforded itself mainly to a large-scale video projection.
Within a close radius from the centre of the blast, I filmed the backs of people’s heads just going about their everyday lives. Random terrorism knows no discrimination and these Deleuzian dividual datapackages gave the project an underlying socio-political commentary. I started creating sequences, using these footages in two different ways. I used a cross-dissolve editing technique to allude to the liminal phase of the work and I then moved on to the historical mediatized memories of the account. My friend and I had featured in the BBC deposition of history and I decided to appropriate certain stills from this footage and render them as my own by means of pixelization in combination with my filmed footage. I isolated footage of 135 dividuals in squares and colour-matched each one to the corresponding pixel. This afforded a moving image of the still whose visibility I could then play with. On revisiting this footage, my first thought was that I didn’t remember the red bag I was carrying that day which was unusual. I attended Young Choreographers workshops at the Siobhan Davis dance studios and as a consequence also started working on improvised performances. After the blast, my friend and I had walked aimlessly for hours around the City. During one of the improvisations, this aimlessness translated itself into me dragging my body repeatedly across the floor in a square. I applied this to the pixilated moving image and two of the pixels, one notably being the red bag in that sequence, provided the mirroring of that shell-shocked aimlessness.
With regards to the audio, I had been in touch with my friend about the exhibition and we had arranged to do some filming on the Good Friday at the location. This never came about, however, she did unearth an old poetry book she used to write in which contained an account of her experience written the day after the blast. Interestingly the only words crossed out in the original text were ‘we wandered aimlessly’. I took a recording of her reading the piece and I applied my take on aural trauma to create the soundtrack. It is somewhat difficult to listen to but then the intention of the piece was never one of comfort. Audio silence accompanies the last phase of the piece so as to afford reflection.
Whilst I was working on the video, I got a call. The anti-terrorist squad couldn’t allow a public exhibition in the church on that day as the Prime Minister was attending a memorial service at St Ethelburgas that evening (to which I was invited), as they had to sweep the venue the day before. I couldn’t abandon the project. It had been a lorry bomb, so an obvious alternative would have been to project the video onto the side of a lorry. It was however a time-specific piece starting exactly 25 years later to the minute of the blast and lasting approximately six and a half hours to the time when the body of the victim, Ed Henty, was discovered. This was during full daylight hours to which video projection is highly unsuited. The solution was to get a backlit vehicle to screen the video. I got quotes for digital Advans which could drive around the City for the day. I needed £850 to make this happen. I applied to the University of Northampton’s Chancellors Fund and, gratefully, received the funding. It made me believe that big ideas can happen and provided me with the means to deliver, in a professional, coherent manner, an important artwork.
During the making and execution of this project, I received psychological support. Trauma is a beast. Multiple traumas are many beasts. They have a tendency to gang up on you. I learnt a technique whereby you embody each incidence of trauma and find where it is located within your body. This, separates, and, as a consequence, dissipates, the intensity of the mob as it were. Interestingly I felt that the trauma from the bomb was located in my ears. This gave rise to developing an interdisciplinary performance piece which addressed the embodiment of trauma. I chose to perform this at the precise moment, 25 years later, in the exact spot I had been when the blast had gone off.
The video then started screening on the backlit screen and we travelled throughout the City of London for the predefined six and a half hours. The planned itinerary needed adjusting as we went and the liveness of the happening bustled alongside a questioning audience. Artistically I brought the historical news directly onto the streets and into the site: a contemporary version of the living newspaper. I did feel a sense of triumph. The work was called ‘If I Hear a Loud Bang, I’ll Count to 10 Slowly Then Walk Towards it’, which were the last words of the one fatality, Ed Henty, to whom the piece paid tribute in name and in duration. After my personal commemoration of the event, I attended the church memorial service that evening led by the Bishop of London. My artwork received extensive press coverage in my hometown of Henley-on-Thames and, as a consequence, I have now been nominated for the Sue Ryder Southern Women of Achievement Awards in the Courage Award category. The winners are to be announced in a Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony at the Madejski Stadium in Reading on Friday 15thMarch.