In a River a Thousand Streams

London Bridge Station serves Kent, Essex and the south-east. It connects us to the picture-postcard coast at Brighton, Hastings and beyond. With 18 trains an hour, it’s the UK’s fourth busiest railway terminus, transporting 56 million passengers each year. It sits at the junction of Bermondsey, Borough and Bankside. It’s also the gateway to the City of London – the UK’s financial power house and the original Londinium, founded by the Romans in AD43.

Adam Nathaniel Furman courtesy of Team London Bridge

In the London Bridge Station concourse, a new artwork In a River a Thousand Streams – an arresting 57-metre mosaic bursting with 28 vivid colours – is gradually emerging. It’s constructed from 250,000 small pieces of glass tiles known as ‘tesserae’. This is the work of Adam Nathaniel Furman. The artist responded to a competition launched by the London School of Mosaic, a charity supporting vulnerable people, enhancing neighbourhoods and teaching age-old skills. This site-specific commission represents both the journeys happening all around London Bridge and all the people making them.

Abstract
The mosaic is sandwiched between two transport hubs – the river and the station. Its theme is diversity and inclusion and the artwork’s design and flow (known as andamenta in the mosaic world) is deliberately abstract. This enables the viewer to interpret the work as they see it. The artist sought not to leave anyone out by representing any specific type of group or person to the exclusion of others. Some patterns in the design might become recognisable. Do I see the London Eye in there? Or is that a bike wheel? Does the curved section nearer to the bus terminus suggest the patterned moquette of bus and tube seats?

A hint of London Transport moquette in the mosaic. Photo copyright @Meetmrlondoner

The mosaic is part of an intriguing art trail snaking through the neighbourhood, taking us from chi-chi Bermondsey Street in the east, to the busy Borough High Street in the west. There’s a fetching sculpture of the poet John Keats in Guy’s Hospital. Keats trained as a physician and an apothecary here before penning his Odes to Nightingales and Grecian Urns. The handsome 2020 bronze by Stuart Williamson sits in one of the alcoves rescued from Charles Rennie’s 1833 London Bridge. The rest of the bridge went Stateside, to Lake Havasu, in 1968. It’s now one of Arizona’s leading tourist attractions – second only to the Grand Canyon.

Boats, boilers and trains
The Guy’s Hospital site, at Great Maze Pond, has undergone a dramatic transformation. The cancer centre was designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners at a cost of £160 million in 2016. It sits opposite the Made of Waste garden, an area of natural planting, making a feature out of both drought-tolerant species and building rubble, that would have otherwise gone straight to landfill. This small green space, one of several within the hospital estate, provides an area of refection for patients, staff and visitors. Opposite is Thomas Heatherwick’s Boiler Suit. This futuristic 2007 intervention clads the hospital’s boiler room and power plant in 108 large undulating steel mesh tiles. Illuminated at night, it acts a wayfinding beacon and discourages graffiti. Daniel Silver’s Boat is a bronze sculpture, reflecting the journeys people take in London and across the globe. It also responds to people’s journeys through cancer. Although inspired by the art of ancient Greece, Silver located this work above the site of the unexpected find, in 1958, of a Roman boat.

Stories from the Wasteland by the Mutoid Waste Company. Photo copyright @Meetmrlondoner

A dystopian idea of a journey is captured in Stories from the Wasteland. This is Joe Rush’s 2019 recreation of an abandoned railway carriage at the eastern end of St Thomas’s Street. Hiding in plain sight, and made from scrap metal and discarded tools, this dramatic artwork is suspended from a wall and features an attack by giant red metal ants. Rush is the founder of the anarchic Mutoid Waste Company. This rag-tag collective grew out of the club scene. It proved a hit at Glastonbury Festival. It’s been described as part performance art, part street theatre, part travelling circus.

London Bridge Station itself now features three commissions. Meet me at the Heart is street artist’s Jimmy C’s new rendezvous point for travellers. His work features drip-painted heart-shapes. Jimmy C, aka James Cochrane, was born in the UK but grew up in Australia. He was a major figure on the graffiti scene in the 1990s. He pioneered what’s been dubbed ‘Aboriginal Pointillism’. His work is inspired by both impressionists like George Seurat and the art of native Australian communities. His pieces dot the Capital.

Hope Reveals the World by Mark Tichner. Photo copyright @Meetmrlondoner

Voltaire
The three large polished metal half-domes suspended from the ceiling of the Joiner Street arch in London Bridge station reflect journeys in a different way. This is Me, Here, Now. It is artist and wordsmith’s Mark Titchner’s most ambitious public work to date. The mirrored metal reflects both the brickwork of the arch above it and the shuffling commuters below. Engraved on to each of the three works are the words “Only the first step in difficult”,“Distance means nothing” and, “One foot in front of the other”. All are quotes attributed to that friend of the arts and man of letters, the enlightenment writer Voltaire.

In 2020, Titchner was also commissioned to deliver another work nearby. Hope Reveals the World is a large billboard poster featuring the written word and collage. This powerful post-lockdown message refers to the tentative first journeys we all took on to the still-quiet and strange yet familiar city streets, as post-Covid restrictions began to lift.

The earliest artwork on our trail is the Southwark Gateway Needle, built in 1999, by Eric Parry Architects. This monumental triangular spike in white Portland stone is suspended at a 19.5 degree angle. Like much artwork its true meaning is debated. Many believe it relates to the spikes used to impale the heads of executed traitors on London Bridge in the middle ages. I’d prefer to think of it as a welcome to a fascinating and vibrant district – one full of art and culture and people going places.

 

About the Author

Mr Londoner is former museum director Antony Robbins. He’s currently working with local business improvement district Team London Bridge on a range of free public tours of the London Bridge Art Trail. Meet Mr Londoner here