It is hard to deny Sir Eduardo Paolozzi a significant seat at the history of art table. Self-proclaimed surrealist, unofficial father of Pop and the master of multiple mediums, his place is confirmed.
And although the historical records point to Slade School of Art as his official training ground, his professional history began in the north, at Edinburgh College of Art. Before heading to London Paolozzi took evening courses in 1941 and again in 1942. He then enrolled as a full time student but conscription cut it short. He returned later in his career as a visiting professor giving lectures to ECA students, taking them to London on study trips and generously offering time and mentorship. He continued to have a strong connection with Edinburgh that continues today through art. Some may be familiar of the murals in Leith that signpost his neighbourhood, his studio in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art or his sculptures that are dotted around the city.
It was for these reasons that the University of Edinburgh was chosen as the appropriate home for the mosaic fragments of two archways designed by Paolozzi from Tottenham Court Road tube station. In the 1980s Paolozzi was commissioned by London Regional Transport to create a public artwork for the station. Covering over 950 sq metres in mosaics Paolozzi showed images of everyday life, references to visual culture, the locality and nearby attractions like the British Museum.The archways were a significant component of this iconic commission. Above the escalators leading to the platforms they acted as a special entrance, heralding what lay beyond. Specifically there were two structures or six arches, two sets of three. There were four separate designs on the arches, one on each side.
A new home
The arches were removed in January 2015 as part of the Crossrail redevelopment plans to the station. Necessary expansion to the ticket halls and entrances were needed to allow for safer and more efficient access. Agreeing with Transport for London contractors and structural engineers that the arches could be neither retained nor removed undamaged, the Paolozzi Foundation accepted that the arches were to be dismantled. Fragments that were deemed saveable were stored and made wait for a new home.
In October 2015 they arrived in Edinburgh and were unpacked in ECA’s Sculpture Court. Following some basic conservation and cataloguing, each fragment was photographed to allow for collaborations with the School of Informatics. They digitally mapped each fragment against the original design using the MATLAB programme. This provided vital knowledge regarding fragment location but also complicated plans for their redisplay with the discovery that only 33% of the arches remain.
Faced with a partial artwork do you attempt to reconstruct the artwork in its original form? Or do you keep them in their fragmented form? If so, how do you redisplay them? The fragments are beautiful objects independent and dependant of each other, but it is not easy to know what to do with them. Since they’ve come to the University they’ve been used in teaching, raising many questions with no obvious right answer or next step. This is an exciting, challenging project for the University and Edinburgh.
In order to include as many voices and ideas in the project as possible there was a dedicated day of discussion in February. As part of the Festival of Creative Learning, A Public Art Puzzle symposium was held at ECA. Invited mosaicists, art historians, conservators, along with alumnus and ECA lecturer Gordon Brennan and alumna Joanna Kessel, joined attendees to brainstorm the future of the mosaics in the University. Importantly, the event was open to all: students’ present and past, staff, and the general public. This is a significant piece of public art and as such conversations about the work and discussion of plans need to be open and include the community. Involvement with students and openness are two aims and values that will underpin this project. Given that he was an ECA alumus himself, it is highly appropriate that Paolozzi’s work and plans for it are open to the alumni community as well.