Through imaginative salvage and experiments in chemical printmaking the project Urban Alchemy explores the material stories and processes of urban transformation. I had begun to use the traditional intaglio process of etching to create images of sites in transition whilst making a pop-up book of the changing Lea Valley. Etchings lineage in the depiction of ruins and the necessity for inversion and reversals in the process seemed apt. I began to pick up bits of old roofing zinc and to test with this chemical print method. This has led to constant work with larger scale roofing zinc, copper boilers, copper pipes and tests on salvaged steel and aluminium. It has taken me from demolition sites to scrap yards and into the centre of the trading Ring at the London Metal Exchange in an ongoing investigation of the micro and macro tales of these metals that surround and shelter us.
The focus of this work is making etched portraits of demolition site workers and the results of this work with metal now adorn the walls of UCL Construction Welfare Building canteen. Glimpses of the processes can be seen in the Urban Alchemy book.
The book itself (first edition of 300) is a 40 page hard cover cloth-bound gilt edged volume in the traditional of an alchemical ‘book of secrets’ exposing the narratives and techniques of the transformation of these materials over this year of experimentation and exchange. It examines a core ‘family’ of demolition site materials –zinc, copper, slate, brick, stone/concrete, steel, aluminium and asbestos through photographs from the demolition site, of the materials undergoing transformation in chemistry laboratory and print studio and of the image outcomes of these creative and chemical changes. This imagery sits alongside a series of poetic narratives of each of these materials.
Thank you to UCL Chemistry, Institute of Making, Leverhulme Trust, UCL Estates and Sustainability, Wilson James, Peak, Scudder, Gilbert Ash, Maylarch, UCL Anthropology, Journal of Material Culture, UCL Urban Lab, East London Printmakers, Joint Faculty of Graduate Studies, UCL Grand Challenge for Sustainable Cities.