There is so much to do and see in London. I love living here and am so grateful for the many reasons I find to be delighted on a daily basis. Most of these moments happen when I go slightly off-piste – when I take a variation of my regular route or sit on the other side of the bus or just look left instead of to my regular right. Sometimes something unexpected crosses my usual path and recently I came across some old photos that reminded me of just how delightful it is when this happens.
Back in 2015, I’d been going to the V&A Museum every couple of months (for exhibitions, talks and a rather fabulous book group). The building sprawls grandly on one corner of the intersection of Exhibition and Cromwell Roads opposite the gingham brickwork of the Natural History Museum and the wedding cake pillars of the Science Museum. During the day, taxis zoom past with gusto and excited school groups are herded about in seething clumps. On weekends and school holidays, a human tide of families – with their flotilla of pushchairs and strollers – ebb and flow through the four crosswalks.
It’s an intersection I’d come to know well – a place devoid of monument yet thrumming with humanity, anticipation and movement. So imagine my surprise when I turned up one November evening to find this…
This is When Soak Becomes Spill, an installation for the V&A Museum that was created by artist Subodh Gupta for the museum’s India Festival back in 2015. This was the museum’s first outdoor installation and it ‘ran’ from 23rd October 2015 to 31st January 2016.
Gupta is a contemporary artist who uses everyday objects to reflect his Indian heritage and explore universal themes. He created When Soak Becomes Spill to highlight the parallel themes of how the world’s natural resources are being wasted and how the constant temptation of the new creates a [false] promise of a better future. The installation featured an enormous stainless steel bucket with a foam of shiny pots and kitchen utensils spilling over its rim. He’d also left the bucket empty to suggest the ultimate poverty of consumerism.
Anyway on a cold November evening this new and shiny object commanded my attention and captured my imagination. I remember standing in the crisp London night, admiring the glittering detail of the overspill and the streetlights reflecting in the smooth side of the bucket. I was thrilled by its addition to this familiar space. I also loved how it made me pause. My examination of this one single thing had made a bigger impact on my night than the myriad of wonderful museum treasures nearby.
As January 2016 came and went, so too did this piece of social commentary. The space was returned to the singular service of its pedestrians…and has not featured any other installations since. It’s a shame. To my mind, this space could have been used much like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, featuring a revolving series of installations. What a pair of plinths that would be.
In any case, the crosswalk remains undiminished as a cultural intersection for London’s highbrow and hoi polloi. But is it the best use of this public space? Or a missed opportunity?
What do you think?
If you want to know more about how the installation was created, check out this video: