The book ‘Urban Alchemy’ was made during a Leverhulme Trust artist residency with UCL Chemistry.
Through imaginative salvage and experiments in chemical printmaking the project Urban Alchemy explores the material stories and processes of urban transformation. Through experimentation with and salvage of demolition site materials, creative production and the poetry and politics of place combine with the science, agency and political ecology of materials.
The book itself 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.
The work began during an AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL where I was working on a project using pop up book forms to explore urban change whilst making myself unofficial artist in residence on an East London demolition site. The beginnings were supported by a small ESPRC grant from the UCL Institute of Making alongside working with Professor Julian Evans of UCL Chemistry to secure my Leverhulme artists residency there (Oct 14 – July 15) and a UCL Grand Challenge for Sustainable Cities small grant in collaboration with UCL Anthropology. Thanks to Valli Van Zijl and Maylarch demolition for site access in East London where this project had its origins. Thank you now to UCL Estates and all contractors (Wilson James, Peak, Scudder, Gilbert Ash) and all individuals who have helped this project move on in exciting directions. Thank you too to UCL Anthropology department, the Journal of Material Culture , UCL Urban Laboratory.