This is one of a series of unique prints generated from a site-specific work created in an office block on Blackfriars Road, in the London borough of Southwark. Orbit House was abandoned and scheduled for demolition when Kilpper gained access to the building in 1999. He carved a giant woodcut into the mahogany parquet covering the tenth floor, comprising an area of approximately 400 square metres. The woodcut depicted a boxing ring surrounded by an audience of some eighty characters whose names were cut around the edge of the image. The artist derived the portraits from photographs and etchings which he made into slides and projected onto the floor before carving the relief with chisels and a chainsaw. He then made a succession of prints, constituting individual portraits, on a range of new and found materials. He used old curtains left in the building, often sewing several pieces together to make one large, rectangular support. Paper sources include advertising hoarding paper and sheets of purple ultra violet polythene film which Kilpper discovered screening windows in some rooms of the building. The herringbone texture of the parquet features strongly on all the uncut areas of the prints which were executed mainly in black ink using a specially-made giant, cement-filled roller. During the exhibition of the work, the prints were suspended on washing lines above the carved floor. Daylight from the surrounding windows filtered through their semi-translucent supports. Visitors would walk on the carved parquet while looking at the prints. A huge banner was printed from the entire surface (The Ring, collection the artist) and hung on the outside of the building for the duration of the installation. Tate owns twenty-one prints, twenty made on fabric (Tate P78537-P78556) and one on paper (Tate P78557). The Ring: Fight On (Tate T07671) is a section of the parquet flooring preserved before the building’s demolition in late 2000.
The subjects of the woodcut are characters and events in some way related to the location and to the artist. Kilpper selected Orbit House because of the fascinating history of the building and its site and their connections with his own personal history and motivations. His installation created a web of serendipitous interconnecting personal and political narratives. In 1780, the Wesleyan Surrey Chapel was erected on the site by the charismatic preacher and orator, Reverend Rowland Hill (1744-1833). It served as a chapel until 1890, when the octagonal building was taken over by first an engineering company and then a furniture warehouse. Between 1907 and 1909 it functioned as one of London’s earliest cinemas. In 1910 it became a popular boxing venue, The Ring, until 1940, when it was destroyed by a direct hit in a Luftwaffe raid aimed at the nearby rail link to Dover. During its time as The Ring, the building doubled as a music hall and theatre hosting productions of Shakespeare by The Old Vic Company.
Film-maker Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) used the boxing venue, The Ring, as the set for his silent movie of the same name in 1926. The Ring 1927 was the first film Hitchcock directed for which he had written the screenplay himself. It is the story of two boxers who both love the same woman. ‘Nelly’ is engaged to marry ‘One Round Jack’ but their relationship is becoming stale. ‘Bob’ appears, falls in love with Nelly and challenges Jack to a fight. He wins and runs away with Nelly but Jack catches up with them and challenges Bob to a second round. This time they are fighting for Nelly’s hand in marriage. The title refers to the boxing venue as well as a wedding ring. Kilpper included the actors Carl Brisson, who played the boxer Jack, and Gordon Harker, who played his trainer, in his woodcut. The print (Tate P78545) shows a scene from the film in which the two men stand in the central arena of The Ring. The support for Hitchock’s print was made from two pieces of fabric superimposed. Regular horizontal bands of white on a net fabric create a striped effect across Hitchcock’s face. Small rectangular shapes cut in the heavier fabric beneath create white patches.
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition brochure, South London Gallery Projects 2000
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition catalogue, Orbit House, London 2000, pp.14-15 and 43, reproduced p.21
Sue Hubbard, ‘An Eye for the Bigger Picture’, Independent: The Tuesday Review, 21 March 2000