A Shrine to Shrines

We’ve been thinking a lot about random objects recently here at Brick Box Towers. Rosie and Jess’s recent intrepid adventures in the river Wandle unearthing items for our fabulous forthcoming Festival Hub of Curiosity has got me pondering on the choosing and placement of objects and the powerful art, love and magic this can create.

Why, only this afternoon in the Robing Room of Wandsworth Town Hall*, young Rosie plucked a filthy playing card, a child’s shoe and a mangled cassette** from her rucksack to delighted oohs and aahs from the assembled dignitaries. Who would have thought that items so carelessly discarded and covered in sludge at the bottom of a river would find their way back into the light amid gasps and applause and a new, albeit temporary, life as an Icon?  Come and spot these objets de jour in situ during the Wandsworth Arts Festival and Fringe, beaming proudly next to their recently excavated neighbours. Each with a secret, never to be told.

Our Cabinet of Curiosities is essentially a giant shrine to the river: not to its obvious treasures such as trout, but to its ‘shadow self’, its secret underbelly, the physical manifestations of human error it has accepted so graciously into its depths. That’s the beauty of a shrine. It can encompass, symbolise and manifest anything, however complex. It provides an opportunity for poetic juxtaposition, rich symbolism, meditation and ritual. It might provide comfort or seek the granting of a wish, it could be playing homage to a person, an animal, the sea, dancing, a God, shoes, or sparkly things. In short, it can include, be about, and be for anything you like.

I have always been a shrine builder. Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed collecting objects and arranging them into satisfying groups, then piling on the offerings and tending to the decor. Items previously unacquainted with each other and perhaps a little lost or unloved can attain gravitas and magical properties simply by a thoughtful assembly session.

For instance: my Cindy doll, bedecked with buttercups, a small china rabbit ensconced in her nylon princess skirts, her feet up on a fossil, sitting within a circle of stones, the whole lot then sprayed with many enthusiastic layers of ‘Tweed’ perfume – Bedroom Windowsill Shrine circa 1975. My more contemporary manifestations tend to involve plastic roses, trolls and statues of the Virgin Mary so you can see how sophisticated the concept has become for me now that I am in my forties.

I am not religious but I love Mary. Mainly because she is a composite of Mariamne, the Semite God-Mother, Aphrodite-Mari, the Syrian version of Ishtar, Juno the Blessed Virgin, Isis as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, Maya the Oriental Virgin Mother of the Redeemer, the Trinity of Fates and the Morning-Star Goddess. And many more …. but not many people know that. The modern version of Mary exists due to Christianity not being able to eliminate Goddess worship from patriarchal doctrines. So I like to praise her enduring spirit, which is easy when she comes in so many guises. Including glow-in-the-dark.

When I was twenty five, my ten year-old sister sent me a gang of trolls in a parcel as she said she had ‘outgrown them’.  She knew that I would adopt them. I did. So now the troll family are regularly woven into my domestic shrinery, enjoyed greatly by my seven year-old stepdaughter who loves and involves them anew and understands shrines inherently.  The roses, well….. who doesn’t love a bunch of plastic roses? They’ll still be ridiculously red and vibrant when we’re all bones and dust.

A noble shrine building tradition lies at the heart of many religions and cultures; Mexicans are hugely inspirational, particularly when dealing with the subject of death, and Hindus have an enviable air of confidence in all matters shrine. Shrines can occur naturally: a tree bathed in sunlight, surrounded by animal droppings and flora and fauna, or consciously constructed but not necessarily named as a shrine. My gran’s consisted of such items as faded gold-sprayed foliage, china (and knitted) mallard ducks, gonks (‘60s reference – Google if unfamiliar with the genre), pebbles painted to look like ladybirds, and jolly toads whittled from bark, gamely playing the banjo. All together, they created a bespoke totem pole of memories and emotions.

So a shrine might be a collection of special objects that surround a person for years and positioned in the same place, or it might be assembled for a specific purpose at the drop of a hat. I have lots of small objects to hand, all of which have memories and stories attached. I can construct a meaningful and satisfying shrine in seconds if necessary.  Though sometimes it’s nice to take time over it and make it into more of a ritual. Right now I need a speedy shrine as I’m waiting for an important phone call.

So, after a quick raid of the dressing table, these are the objects I’ve chosen:

1363268052The Enchantress. This is from a game my dad made in the seventies (hippy). It’s an amazing game about life, death, and well, everything really. This is my favourite character. She can turn in to a tree, a crow or a rock if you turn her around by her oven switch hat. I use her when I really want to influence something.







1363268192Gold dish with love heart and ring. In this dish, which is from an amazing shop in Bradford called Bombay Stores, there is a ring and Love Heart sweet. The ring is from Iran; my mum’s husband is Iranian and she gave it to me for Christmas years ago. It is special because it’s gold, and I once had a fleeting terrible thought that I might sell it during a time of desperation. Those bloody ‘sell your gold’ adverts have a lot to answer for! Thankfully I resisted, so it now symbolises my triumph over a feeling of desperation. My stepdaughter was very interested in this story and is very pleased I didn’t sell it. She gave me the Love Heart to put in the ring. It says: ‘Stay True’. She also gave me the 30 pence to show I was not as poor as I thought. Every time she comes to see us she checks to see the ring and the money are still there.



Rose quartz. I bought this from a ‘mystical’ stall in Tooting market when we were delivering our OLF project. I dropped it on the floor and it is now cracked and therefore flawed, or should I say, its vulnerabilities are visible. I like that. True strength is delicate.

So, I have the items assembled. A quick light of the candles and we’re away. Within ten minutes the phone rings. It is the important phone call. It is spectacularly good news, which I can’t yet divulge. Suffice to say that Rosie is immediately summoned to bring Champagne round. We spend the rest of the night cackling and finish off proceedings with The Brick Box theme tune at 1.00am.

And now we’ve now added the Champagne cork to the shrine. Here it is in the morning sunlight. Now that’s magic!


*And yes it is as glamorous as it sounds
**which we have had analysed forensically and it turns out to be Demis Roussos

This blog post was written by Eleanor.

Posted on 14 Mar 2013, under Blog.

It’s a Wandleful Life!

This year’s Wandsworth Arts Festival and Fringe is going to be bigger and better than ever before. The council’s arts team have been working tirelessly for months, and the line-up of homegrown talent and visiting artists is diverse and interesting. There will also be a Festival Hub programmed by The Brick Box. Designed and built by the award-winning Assemble Studio, temporary structures will appear on the banks of the river Wandle for two weeks this May. The concept for the build is a cabinet of curiosities, inspired by the gifts of the stream from which Wandsworth takes its name, defined by the folk of the borough. But first we needed to find the gifts…

The River Wandle runs from Croydon and Carshalton to meet the Thames at Battersea. Once famed for its crystal waters and scenic fishing (Lord Nelson reportedly fished at ‘Paradise Merton’), the river was officially declared a sewer in the 1960s when the bank-side tanneries flushed dyes downstream.

More recently some excellent human beings began to do something about the pollution. The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the river. Amongst other things (I might mention their brilliantly named schools programme Trout in the Classroom), the trust holds monthly community clean-ups during which a brave band of volunteers spend their Sunday dragging stuff out of the river and cleaning up the banks.

And this is what I did with my Sunday, in the name of art and trout. Luckily for me, I have a friend called Jessie with a highly-developed sense of fun which means she said yes when I asked her to come with the cry, ‘you know how I feel about waders!’ She is amazing and I will love her always.

So we got to work rootling through the rubbish and boy were there some treasures…


This bike was so arty it was immediately deemed to be an installation called ‘Festooned’ by one of the volunteers.


Her cup runneth over: Jess finds some legs.


A particularly exciting moment with a grappling hook and old pram frame.


Some disgusting river dweller and an abandoned toy.


Wandle fauna. There is also a good eel population in the river although Sunday’s eel count was 0. Thankfully.


Jess and the rubbish clearance team. These guys are hardcore.

We got a great haul of filthy but soon-to-be-cleaned items so come by the Festival Hub in May and see them for yourselves.

And finally, a huge thank you goes to everyone at The Wandle Trust for making us feel so welcome. I doff my cap to you all for the dedication, cheeriness, cake and utterly brilliant pun which I just had to use for the title of this blog post. See you at The Hub!

Posted on 11 Mar 2013, under Blog.

Let there be light

I hadn’t really considered light as an artistic medium until a few months ago. In February last year, I co-curated an event called Unorthobox in Tooting Market. A host of lighting artists transformed and reimagined the space which was otherwise dead at night. The evening was magical, well received and thought provoking, thanks to the brilliant participants.

Since then, the power of luminosity (or the lack thereof) has been increasingly apparent to me. The creative energy that surrounded the firepit at our 354 Coldharbour Lane project was notable. More recently, I enjoyed the sensory installations at IBT13 in Bristol, such as Simon Faithful’s Fake Moon and Alex Bradley’s Field Test. But it wasn’t until I met Leni Schwendinger that I really thought about the poetry of light.

Leni is a New York based lighting artist with an infectious passion for her medium. She spoke at a consultation salon we had been invited to by the cultural masterplanning organisation, Civic Works. In just a few minutes, we were considering the progressive municipal lighting of Cairo in 1000 AD, the spot-lit stage of the street corner, and the playfulness of projected mazes in the snow.

These days the world is a sparklier place (which is remarkable when you have a business partner with a penchant for glittery stationery). Because of Leni’s perception, I’ve noticed the shattering reflections in wind-blown puddles, the thick shadows lent by the railway bridges of Brixton, and the ubiquitous orange glow of street lighting which so often bleeds away lucent subtlety.

So I was delighted when I heard about Light Show at the Southbank’s Hayward Gallery. Tickets sell out most days and you can see why. Not only does it come at a perfect time of year for the sun-deprived but – to put it bluntly – people like light. It doesn’t have to be explained by a critic or understood in the context of Dadaism. From the toddlers giggling in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s multi-coloured rooms to the woman chuckling about BBQing bits of meat against Cerith Wyn Evans’ heat-kicking columns, everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. That includes the particularly brilliant exhibition invigilators who guided us in to near-pitch black rooms with singsong reassurances of ‘Keep to the right and there won’t be no fright’. Glittering LEDs and strobe lit fountains triggered happy memories of the dance floor whereas Anthony McCall’s simple installation encouraged such playfulness noone wanted to leave. In fact, I enjoyed almost every piece. As did my dad who struck a rather fine Elvis pose in a set of red spotlights, of which I did not take a photo.


If you can, go. The show is fascinating, accessible and a great use of the Modernist gallery space. Indeed, as the exhibition organisers put it:

“Light has the power to affect our state of mind as well as alter how we perceive the world around us”

Happily, The Brick Box’s adventures in light continue this spring with the third event in our Unorthobox series. It will be an evening of physical theatre, projections and installations and the official opening of the Wandsworth Arts Festival hub on 4th May. We’re collaborating with the brilliant Karavan Ensemble and Passenger Films collective so make sure you’re there because it’s going to be very special and very sparkly.

So, in the words of a dear friend and Brick Box security guard: love and light folks, luv n lite.

Posted on 04 Mar 2013, under Blog.