Extract and Distil
By Yemi Awosile, commissioned by Tideway
Yemi Awosile was commissioned by Tideway to create a series of artworks for the site at Dormay Street.
Yemi’s commission, like the other permanent commissions, was conceived in response to Tideway’s Heritage Interpretation Strategy. The theme for the West section of the tunnel is ‘Recreation to Industry: Society in Transition’ with the site-specific focus for Dormay Street relating to the improvement of 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 has been at the forefront of global scientific research to free humanity from disease.
Yemi’s artwork, Extract and Distil, responds to this specific history of the site and comprises a series of four vibrant, metal sculptural elements fixed to wooden fenders that protect the intertidal terraces within the Bell Lane Creek, off the River Wandle. The commission celebrates the site’s connection to pioneering medical research and scientific exploration which increased the availability of pharmaceutical therapies and scientific knowledge.
As a creative point of entry, Yemi’s research looked at Sir Henry Wellcome’s personal archive of medical glassware. He collected over 5,000 pieces of apothecary glassware used to store, boil and distil chemicals. Looking more specifically at scientific research linked to the Wellcome Foundation, she 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 of international medical research. Some of these include the discovery of antitoxins for tetanus, diphtheria and gangrene; and the isolation of histamine resulting in the production of anti-histamine.
Extract and Distil is based on an interlocking system of modular patterns inspired by organic chemistry, which Yemi modified to incorporate visual aspects of the molecular structure of histamine (molecular formula C5H9N). The forms themselves were developed from the chemical compound, the packaging design and the surface manipulation of paper folding.
The four sculptures work with the architectural infrastructure of the waterway to integrate the river into the design, capturing the reflective qualities of the water and enabling light to pass through the negative space in the metal. Situated on the Creek’s fenders in view of the adjacent bridge and railway line, the artworks can be seen from different angles, changing with shadow and light, and the varying heights of the water to animate the area between the site and the Creek.