A WAY FROM HEAVEN
by Adam Chodzko, commissioned by Tideway
Adam Chodzko was commissioned by Tideway to create an integrated artwork for the façade of the mechanical and electrical building situated on the south eastern corner of the playing field of the Barn Elms Schools Sports Centre.
As with the other permanent commissions, Adam’s artwork was conceived in response to the site-specific historical narratives set out in the Heritage Interpretation Strategy. Titled A Way from Heaven, Adam’s artwork at Barn Elms is based upon the area’s connection to Sir Francis Walsingham – the government administrator responsible for intelligence services in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – who resided at Barn Elms Manor. It was Walsingham’s spy system that discovered the Babington Plot of 1586 to murder Queen Elizabeth I and her ministers and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. Babington’s encrypted correspondence with Mary was intercepted and decoded by Walsingham’s spies, preventing the plot from being carried out and ultimately leading to the execution of the Queen of Scots.
For A Way from Heaven, Adam selected a portion of the code, which Walsingham deciphered, to be laser cut into the anodised aluminium façade of the building at different scales. Working from a digitised version of the original, the work faithfully recreates the handwritten script of Babington’s code, written with a quill and ink, and enabled the artist to employ artistic licence to create an equally enigmatic message that resembles topographical marks on a map but can be decoded to read ‘A Way from Heaven’.
In reference to the falconry kept by Walsingham at Barn Elms and the quills used to write the ciphers a row of falcon feathers feature in the background of the work, rendered in a darker pigmentation. At the top left and bottom right of the façade the html codes </head> and </body> reference both computer coding and the separation of Mary, Queen of Scots’ head and body.
Deliberately ambiguous, and resisting any singular meaning, the phrase ‘A Way from Heaven’, and the work’s title, provokes numerous readings and interpretations that resonate with the site’s history and its current purpose. Beheaded for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I, the words could be interpreted as sealing Mary’s fate, forbidding her entry into heaven, while conversely a peaceful and meditative scene can be conjured from the phrase when considering Walsingham’s pastime of watching falcons swoop from the sky and away from heaven. The artist also appeals to our habit of looking up to the heavens and refocus our minds on the earth below our feet, under which the new sewer system will run.
The artist has said:
Creating A Way from Heaven was an amazing and rare opportunity for me. Being able to work at such a large scale, over several years, knowing that my design and the ideas behind it will be chanced upon by a diverse public for many decades ahead was both a challenge and a treat!
The more I explored the Barn Elms site the more it seemed to reveal a complex web of fascinating histories, ecologies, human uses etc. Folding all these separate strands together in a way that might work as a whole – at least a dream-like whole – became a really enjoyable process. Circling falcons, secret codes, an imprisoned Queen, ghosts, empathy, the structure of a Lacewing and 16th century ruffs are all in there!