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Extract and Distil

by Yemi Awosile

Extract and Distil 

By Yemi Awosile, commissioned by Tideway

Artist Yemi Awosile has been commissioned by Tideway to create an artwork for the site at Dormay Street.

The ‘cultural meander’ or heritage theme for the West section of the tunnel is ‘Recreation to Industry: Society in Transition.’ Within this heading, the site-specific narrative for Dormay Street relates to improving human health. The site is the location of the first factory developed by Sir Henry Wellcome, who founded both a pharmaceutical company and a philanthropic trust that have been at the forefront of global scientific research to free humanity from disease.

Yemi has developed an artwork, which responds to this specific history of the site, and comprises a series of four sculptural elements fixed to the fenders protecting the intertidal terraces within the Bell Lane Creek, off the River Wandle. The commission celebrates the unique cultural heritage of the site by looking at its connection to medical research and scientific exploration. The emphasis is one of freedom from disease through the increased availability of pharmaceutical therapies and scientific knowledge.

As a creative point of entry, the research looked at Sir Henry Wellcome’s personal archive of medical glassware. He collected over 5000 pieces of apothecary glassware used to store, boil and distil chemicals. The artist has looked more specifically at scientific research linked to the Wellcome Foundation and focused on the legacy of scientific breakthroughs which took place during his lifetime. Since its creation in 1936, philanthropic funding from the Wellcome Trust has led to a multitude of successful scientific developments which have made an ongoing contribution to the development international medical research. Some of which include the discovery of antitoxins for tetanus, diphtheria and gangrene; and the isolation of histamine resulting in the production of anti-histamine.

The design of the artwork is based on an interlocking system of modular patterns inspired by organic chemistry. The artist has modified the artwork to incorporate visual aspects of the molecular structure of histamine (molecular formula C5H9N).

The four metal sculptural elements form a composition using the architectural infrastructure of the waterway to integrate the river into the design. The artist’s aim is to capture the reflective qualities of the water using composition and colour to define its form. As part of the design, considerations have been given to the way in which light passes through the negative space in the metal. The reversible components make use of both sides of the metal so it can be viewed from either side. The artwork is situated on the Creek’s fenders in good visible view of the adjacent bridge and railway line so it can be seen from different angles.

The bright injections of pattern are based on a re-imaging of pharmaceutical chemistry patterns. The surface treatments are based on the visual distortion and colour associated with glassware and the river. The forms are developed from the chemical compound, the packaging design and the surface manipulation of paper folding.

The proposal is for a collection of intriguing forms that will change with shadow and light, reflection and the varying heights of the water. The artworks will both act as markers, reinforcing the existing markers which warn of the presence of the intertidal terraces, but also animate this area between the site and the Creek.

The sculptures are proposed as 8mm aluminium sheets that are laser cut, folded and hand finished and powder coated. Measuring between 640mm to 1225mm width and 1235mm to 2150 in height. 

The art work