Bridget Baker

Wrecking at Private Siding 661

Accumulator Tower   |   Solo Exhibition   |   29.09.11 - 11.02.12

Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Exterior View)
2011
Bricks
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker
Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Installation View)
2011
Bricks, cane basket with door and mat, ropes, two pulleys, 38 page cyanotype document, solid glass bottle, knitted weights, led lighting, Perspex, fluorescent tubes, heat resistant foil
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker
Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Installation View - detail)
2011
Cane basket, solid glass bottle, led lighting
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker
Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Installation View - detail)
2011
Cane basket, solid glass bottle, led lighting
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker
Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Installation View)
2011
Bricks, cane basket with door and mat, ropes, two pulleys, 38 page cyanotype document, solid glass bottle, knitted weights, led lighting, Perspex, fluorescent tubes, heat resistant foil
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker
Wrecking at Private Siding 661 (Installation View)
2011
Bricks, cane basket with door and mat, ropes, two pulleys, 38 page cyanotype document, solid glass bottle, knitted weights, led lighting, Perspex, fluorescent tubes, heat resistant foil
3.5 x 7 x 16m
Photo: Daniel Isherwood
© Bridget Baker

CHRISTIAN FERREIRA is pleased to announce Wrecking at Private Siding 661, the first solo presentation in London by South African artist Bridget Baker.

A human transporter, or landing basket, has crashed through the ceiling and wall of the accumulator tower of a disused hydraulic power station in Wapping. After swinging pendulously through the wall what remains is a derelict historical relic, useless and lying as it has fallen in the space. However, the mistruth, and the layers of construction, embedded in this prop-like (though nonetheless sincere) object are purposefully visible. The hole that is evidence of this object’s crash is one made in a piece of new brickwork, an entrance bricked up, obstructed. Similarly, the ceiling through which the relic has crashed is clearly made from white Perspex with neatly pointed edges, the tinfoil that aids in its lighting visible, as is the fluorescent lighting itself, resting above this fake ceiling’s edge. It is as if Wrecking at Private Siding 661 presents us with the exact moment when filming stops, the camera pulls back and the actors are shown to be performing, where the props are revealed as unreal objects, the room a set. Stepping into the tower we are stepping into the reveal – a temporal position manifested here within (and outside of, looking into) a physical space.

This ‘revealing’ mirrors South African artist Bridget Baker’s research practice, uncovering personal and colonial histories while simultaneously making evident the constructions inherent in such ‘true’ and ‘whole’ narratives. The central object of Wrecking at Private Siding 661 is the landing basket. This object for human transportation arrives from the artist’s investigation into the history of the colonial immigrant. Arriving in South Africa for the first time British immigrants would have stepped into a landing basket, like Baker’s to be lowered into smaller boats, which would take them to their new home. The South African colonial project is contemporaneous to the time during which the Wapping power station was active – the 1890s, as we are told by an historical plaque on the site, a marker of history legitimized through its lasting materiality and visible aging. The site of Baker’s project then is the conceptual and physical, spatial gap between this power station on the Thames in East London and the Buffalo River, East London, South Africa, as well as the chasm of time and lost history between now and then, grandfather and granddaughter, historical subject and artist.

To begin her research Baker travelled to her hometown in South Africa to visit the East London museum, a place she visited during her childhood and where she first encountered images of the landing basket – a symbol of the strangeness of the initial encounter of the British immigrants with South Africa. Moving from this moment of arrival, Baker explores the brief, and ultimately failed, British colonial project through her own family’s involvement as brokers in the East London (South Africa) wool industry in the early 20th Century, focusing on her own grandfather and father, the former a first generation immigrant from Britain.

In making her own journey to retrieve this history, the artist found not only the image of the landing basket, but also the ‘real’ relic that is now replicated through cyanotype and attached to the front of Baker’s object – a letter written by her grandfather which refers to an attached biography, or history, of the Baker family’s wool company. The attached document, however, is lost. The letter tells us of a text that is now invisible, outside of both official and familial historical narratives. Behind this letter are blueprints of (‘real’) newspaper articles, some written by Baker’s father about his fears for the future of East London and the wool industry, the latter which was subsequently appropriated by the Afrikaner community and moved to Port Elizabeth (not incidentally, the only town in South Africa whose museum contains landing baskets as part of its collection).

Through historical pilgrimage, Baker discovers otherwise invisible moments of familial and colonial narratives. While in South Africa she supervises the construction and subsequent aging of her landing basket, cane woven by the Cape Town Blind Society, which is then shipped to London – returning an incongruous object to a place where it would never have been seen, but a ‘home’ common to those who would have experienced its ghost as they arrived in South Africa.

As the viewer walks around this strange, failed relic, they find a glowing bottle, a piece of treasure uncovered by the artist, and waiting to be discovered by the viewer. The bottle in fact has been (re)cast with the name of Baker’s family’s wool company emblazoned on the side – further legitimizing the artist’s personal history, though only within the staged museum she has constructed. Stepping out, then, through the hole in Baker’s wall, the viewer embodies the action of the British immigrants ducking to exit the landing basket.

Once a literal generator of power, the Accumulator Tower now exists solely outside of its function, without power, powerless, a memorial only to itself. And if you look closely, the weights on the bottom of Baker’s landing basket are filled with unrefined sheep’s wool, a material that would fail, inevitably, to ground this momentous object.

Bridget Baker was born in 1971 in East London, South Africa and is currently based in Cape Town and London. Baker studied Visual Arts at the universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town. She exhibits internationally and her work is held in numerous public and private collections including the South African National Gallery, Standard Bank, Centro de Artes Contemporanea de Burgos and Rand Merchant Bank. Her work has been published widely but also in South African Art Now by Sue Williamson (2009).

Text: Linda Stupart