First published in International Times on Dec 21 2013
Dear James Lingwood and Mike Morris
Thanks for taking the time and trouble to respond to my open letter, which you did on Dec 20, just before news that the Artangel proposal had been turned down by Southwark Council.
Thanks also for the photo you sent by way of explaining the thinking behind the project’s controversial shape. I quote: “Firstly Mike Nelson’s proposal is to build a ziggurat rather than a pyramid. The ziggurat form makes direct reference to the Jespersen system used to construct the Heygate Estate, as can be seen from the attached photograph taken during construction in 1973, as well as other associations.”
Fascinating as this is, I feel it is disingenuous. For starters, a ziggurat is a pyramid. Secondly, the general public would not have thought of it as a ziggurat but as a pyramid. Finally, your own application to Southwark Council twice referred to the artwork as a ‘pyramid’. At no point in the 8-page document was it referred to as a ‘ziggurat’. I quote: “The physical appearance of the structure will be a pyramid.”
The problem with pyramids is their hierarchical and freemasonic connotations. It is well known that much of our urban architecture and engineering is created by people who also happen to be freemasons and that they reflect freemasonic interests in ‘sacred geometry’. Cleopatra’s Needle, for instance, was erected by freemasons; its obelisk form includes the pyramid shape at the apex. Hawksmoor, architect and mason, used obelisks and pyramid forms. It happens all the time in all major cities. The most glaring modern example is the pyramid at the top of 1 Canada Square in Canary Wharf with its glow-in-the-dark ‘Eye’. The Shard is also thought by some to resemble an elongated obelisk-cum-pyramid form.
The practice seems habitual, and the building trade has always been connected with freemasonry, not to mention its many prototypes throughout history.
Some of this architectural engineering is beautiful, but it also a way of colonising space, of subliminally advertising, and ultimately of sending out messages about power and influence, wealth and ownership. To use the demotic, much of this type of building – such as John Soane’s headquarters of the Freemasons’ Grand Lodge – is simply saying ‘Fuck off’.
That in your Artangel logo, the ‘A’ is substituted by a chevron, suggests that you too are interested in sacred geometry.
The chevron is also suggested in the Paolozzi statue of William Blake’s ‘Newton’ in the courtyard of the British Library – in the form of a compass – which is also seen as a provocatively masonic public artwork. In many cases these masonic symbols are erected with public money. The masons are one of the thriftiest organisations of all. Rather than spending their own money on these projects they prefer to siphon off funding from various governmental-cum-charitable sources.
Thank you also for letting me know that Lend Lease were not sponsoring your project. I wonder who was?
Of course, sacred geometry is a wonderful subject, and not the sole intellectual property of any secret society. But Egyptian kitsch is everywhere. and it arouses suspicion whenever a new edifice goes up. It is a modern cultural meme – Sinclair/Ackroyd/Moore etc. – that such architecture has a malignant effect on its environs. You did not consider this.
I’m personally relieved to hear the project has been turned down. Southwark Council have clearly chickened out of what would have become a cause celebre for art-activists, and an expensive pain-in-the-arse for local government.
I wonder what your project’s ‘educational and learning’ dimension would have been? You say you have no idea of what I meant by ‘aesthetic airbrushing’. Perhaps aesthetic ‘brushing under the carpet’ would have been a better metaphor. There is one story that matters above all others when it comes to Heygate, and that is the dispossession of its ex-residents. The Artangel project was not designed to tell that story and its net effect would have been to divert public attention away from it and onto something else. That might have been its initial attraction to Southwark Council with whom you have had a prolonged conversation about the Heygate Pyramid; but they could clearly feel the tide was turning and that the game was up on their see-through ruse.
Your reply was arrogant in that it welcomed further discussion only after the pyramid had been erected, but your timing was unfortunate in that the project was cancelled almost as soon as you’d written to me, literally within office hours. I have not sent this letter to you as an email. I am publishing it online for all interested parties to see, including yourselves. The public should have a say in matters of public art, and in this case it did have a say. If Artangel had listened to the many protestors and withdrawn the proposal, the organisation would have won plaudits. Ambition overrode sensitivity. Artangel has done great things, but the Heygate Pyramid was a bad idea of Spinal Tap proportions and has been deservedly laughed out of town.