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 UV 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, under the management of Dick and Bella Burge until 1940, when it was bombed twice in Luftwaffe raids aimed at the nearby rail link to Dover. During this period the building was also used by Alfred Hitchcock as the set for his silent movie The Ring (1926) and hosted intermittent productions of Shakespeare’s plays by the Old Vic Theatre Company.
The character depicted in this print is the English Music Hall ‘Queen’ Marie Lloyd (1870-1922). Kilpper portrayed her because she was born and bred in East London, very near to where he himself was living at the time of making The Ring. Known for her generosity, she entertained soldiers in hospitals and workers in factories all over England during the First World War, a period during which The Ring hosted music hall productions in between boxing matches. She was a close friend of Bella Burge (see Tate P78541) and assisted her soup kitchen at The Ring during the early years of its establishment. She is also reputed to have been a protégé of the actress Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), included in Kilpper’s woodcut because of her love for boxing. The print was made using black ink on seven sections of fabric, ranging from a very light weight white satin to a heavy burnt orange cotton which stands out strongly at the bottom right. A narrow strip of brightly patterned fabric bisects Lloyd’s face.
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition brochure, South London Gallery Projects 2000
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition catalogue, Orbit House, London 2000, pp.14-15, reproduced pp.28 and 35 in colour
Sue Hubbard, ‘An Eye for the Bigger Picture’, Independent: The Tuesday Review, 21 March 2000