Images from ‘Remember Me’
There’s an excitement and instability about building sites that is ambiguous and powerful. Today, King’s cross is both a ruin and a place in the process of re construction, and will be in transition for the next ten years, with a growing and shifting population.
It’s this ‘in between’ state that intrigues me. I’ve been roaming the streets, mostly at night, with small sketchbook, pencil, rubber and digital camera, watching the pulling down and building up of places where nothing has ended and nothing quite begun, trying to remember them before they vanish, or transform in their rebuilding.
The drawings are not a representational document, more an attempt to commemorate disappearing buildings, and invent a fictional future in the neighbourhood. Most of the content is architectural- there are almost no people in the streets. I intended to include figures, in supporting, semi abstract roles, but came to realise that the buildings themselves were the personalities. Like the Eiffel Tower - called the ‘Shepherdess of Paris’ by Guilliame Apollinaire in his poem, ‘Zone’ - the warehouses, site offices, tenement blocks and towers of King’s cross are the lead characters, and the lamp posts, cctv cameras and bollards the supporting cast.
Many of the early buildings have an untouched charm, evoking the early Victorian age. You can almost feel the presence of the literary figures who once lived here: Blake, Dickens, Wollstonecraft and Godwin. Having lived near King’s cross for years, I’ve grown accustomed to its gritty and downbeat nature, often using it as an inspiration for work. Dilapidated buildings on the Caledonian Road were the starting point - long vanished hairdressers and chemist shops - and the no man’s land of Goods Way, with prostitutes waiting under the glow of orange lamps next to battered parking meters and other props. There has always been a mixture of communities and cultures, and a sense of flux, as different architectural eras overlay each other, but over the next ten years the past will merge with 21st century King’s cross/St Pancras, gateway to Europe, creating something different and new I feel both displaced and excited about this: sad about the loss of a familiar place, optimistic about the prospect of change and renewal.
Once associated with prostitution, drug abuse and an unsafe atmosphere in the streets, the territory will slowly be populated by a new kind of society. Since the arrival of the 'Eurostar' in November 2007, French voices can be heard everywhere in the roads near St Pancras. Following this and other commercial developments, there are questions to be asked. Will the corporate and commercial be the dominant character – as at canary Wharf- with an emphasis on profit and shopping? Will there be a ‘non place’ quality to the new architecture? What will happen to the old local community? The views of local people do seem to have been considered however, and social housing, community facilities, theatres, a university and a museum have been woven into the design. The new concert hall, Kings Place, is a powerful and rare model, doubling as office block and cultural centre – blending the concerns of commerce and art in a mutually advantageous way.
The idea of journeys and the layering of places and communities is an underlying subject in the King’s Cross drawings. Unknown roads, passageways leading nowhere, doorways, shuttered windows, staircases and closed off rooms. Also the concept of the ‘door in the wall’- both alluring and unnerving, especially if closed.
At about the same time I started the King’s cross drawings, I read WG Sebald’s book ‘Austerlitz’, and was moved by the way he uses time and memory - ‘the vortex of past time’. One passage in particular, set in Liverpool Street station while in the process of regeneration, described, not a white rabbit, but a station porter in a ‘snow white turban’, who ‘emerged’ from a ‘low doorway in the builders’ fence reaching up to the second story of the interior façade of the station… and now disappeared through it again with an odd jerk.’ As though entering an underworld, 'Austerlitz' follows the man through the doorway, into the disused Ladies Waiting Room on the other side, where the ‘man in the turban was nowhere to be seen’. Later, the space seems to merge with other places from its past, reminiscent of a Piranesi print: ‘vaults and brickwork arches bearing on them many - storeyed structures, with flights of stone steps, wooden stairways and ladders, all leading the eye on and on.
Anne HowesonAnne Howeson is an artist, and tutor at the Royal College of Art.
She worked commercially for many years, with publishing and editorial clients from the UK and America, as well as France, Germany and Canada. She now works on self-initiated drawing projects, recently concerning the regeneration of Kings Cross, where she lives. Exhibited Guardian Newspaper, October 2009.
She won an award in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2000.
Anne Howeson comes from a background of illustration. The European Union commissioned her to represent the UK with the theme ‘Freedom for the individual’, in a calendar celebrating interdependence and collaboration between European countries. She enjoys the constraints of briefs, but has more recently developed towards exhibiting, with an emphasis on drawing.
In addition to her practice, Anne’s parallel career has been as an educator, and she finds the roles interconnect with and influence each other. As a teacher she encourages an interest in committed subject matter, and promotes the use of drawing as a tool for unravelling ideas, but also as a way of expressing curiosity about and recording the way we live.
Previous academic posts include: regular lecturing at Central St Martins and Camberwell College of Art, and an External Examiner at universities including Liverpool John Moores and Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh.
Recent projects include: drawings about the present and future landscape of Kings Cross, exhibited at the Arrivals Festival for the opening of St Pancras International Station in 2007; designs submitted for a Royal Mail Stamp about English Cathedrals. Short films: Incubator developed from a drawing shown in the Bath Festival, On the Edge of Life, 2007; and: Narrow Gate, depicting a metaphorical journey inside a citadel, using architecture from the East and West.
Recent published work includes a chapter in 100 Creative Drawing Ideas, ed. A. Held Audette, 2004.