Summary

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, under the management of Dick and Bella Burge (see Tate P78540 and P78541). While The Ring was closed, ostensibly for refurbishment, at the end of the 1930s, it hosted intermittent productions of Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (see Tate P78551) by the Old Vic Company while its theatre was closed. The central boxing arena in The Ring was perfectly suited to the production of Shakespearean drama in the Elizabethan manner. Shakespeare’s original theatre, The Globe, is located in the area nearby. The Ring was destroyed in 1940 by a direct hit in a Luftwaffe raid aimed at the nearby rail link to Dover. Orbit House was erected in the 1960s.

Kilpper included the British actor, producer and director Robert Atkins (1886-1972) because he was the manager of the Old Vic Theatre Company when it performed at The Ring. In Kilpper’s portrait, Atkins appears with a donkey’s head, apparently posing in the costume of the character Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He played this character in a 1946 film of the play, which he also directed and produced. Kilpper printed Atkins’ portrait on a single large section of white fabric using black ink.

Further reading:
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition catalogue, Orbit House, London 2000, pp.14-15 and 44
Thomas Kilpper: The Ring, exhibition brochure, South London Gallery Projects 2000
Sue Hubbard, ‘An Eye for the Bigger Picture’, Independent: The Tuesday Review, 21 March 2000

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2003