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 related in spirit or in fact 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. Orbit House was commissioned in the 1960s by Labour minister Denis Healey to house the secret printing office for the Ministry of Defence. At the same time, the British Library’s Oriental Collections Department shared the building to store part of its collection, including the oldest wood-printed book The Diamond Sutra (868 AD) discovered in a cave in western China by the explorer Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) in 1907. Kilpper’s father was born in China. His grandfather, a missionary, was kidnapped and held prisoner for several months during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Diamond Sutra, which contains a drawing of a symbolic fist as well as the Buddha bearing the reverse swastika sign, is one of the cultural objects many modern Chinese feel were robbed from their country by the West. Kilpper included the communist leader Mao Tse-Tung (1893-1976) in his woodcut because he sympathises with these views and also to reflect his left-wing politics.
This print depicts Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969). Kilpper believes that images of the Vietnam War which he saw on television and in newspapers when he was a boy had a profound impact on his political consciousness. For him, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War symbolise communist ideals taking a stand against American imperialism. In the woodcut, Kilpper placed Ho Chi Minh next to the three founder members of the Red Army Faction, a German terrorist group strongly opposed to American presence in Europe after the Second World War. The Ring: Fight On (Tate T07671) is a section of the parquet woodcut depicting Ho Chi Min and the RAF. The support for the Ho Chi Minh’s portrait was made from seven sections of fabric of varying weights and colours. A rectangle with a blue floral pattern is at the upper left. A narrow vertical strip of coloured fabric stands out on the right side of Ho Chi Minh’s face.
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition brochure, South London Gallery Projects 2000
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition catalogue, Orbit House, London 2000, pp.12, 14-15 and 43, reproduced pp.32-3 in colour
Sue Hubbard, ‘An Eye for the Bigger Picture’, Independent: The Tuesday Review, 21 March 2000