120 x 24ft electro-luminescent cables, 74 tonnes of water.
Click to see larger images. Images of Conductor courtesy of John Spinks.
Video courtesy of Women’s Playhouse Trust and The Wapping Project.
Conductor (2000) was a site-specific installation made in response to Wapping Hydraulic Pumping Station, London, commissioned for the re-opening of the building as a gallery and restaurant called The Wapping Project (TWP). Conductor was installed for six months.
Described by James Hall in Artforum as, “a tantalizing optical tease, a sort of subterranean Bridget Riley for the installation age”, Conductor’s materials (water and electro-luminescent light cables) and its form were inspired by the history and structure of TWP, especially The Boiler Room. It is a solid industrial building and yet a bubble of air, surrounded by water – the Thames within a stones’ throw, an adjacent basin, huge watery vaults beneath the car park and two giant water tanks above it. For Conductor a large body of water was brought into The Boiler Room to ‘imagine’ a slight rise in the water table. When the building ceased to produce hydraulic power a tele-communications company was quick to buy its network of almost 200 miles of pipes, to run its cable along. Electro-luminescence was used by the same company to make mobile phones screens glow green. The grid used to define the number and position of light cables was taken directly from the spacing of the girders in the ceiling of The Boiler Room. Researching the original architects scale and proportion made Conductor look as if it ‘belonged’.
Visitors walked from the ground level of the Engine Room (the restaurant) through a door that opened onto a steel staircase. From here they looked into the vast Boiler House. The space opened above and the floor fell away by a storey below. Stepping into the Boiler House, into the darkness split with lines of green light, the cables reflected in 74 tonnes of water appeared to continue forever. Burke notes that while darkness is sublime, “a quick transition from darkness to light” produces an effect on the mind that is even more powerful.