What were your ideas behind Agora? How did you approach the commission?
The site was already a gathering place, so I wanted to think about urban space; the history of siting things, why things get sited, power, who's responsible - one might say how the sited gets cited. I thought I should do something about the ground, because the ground is the oldest cultural object there is. In order to be together, you need to make a ground. In order, to eat together you have to make something like a table or a carpet. There's a history of public space that goes back to the Persian Gardens and then comes through Islamic culture through to southern Spain.
At Frank’s Café, you get a really powerful sense that you're in a democratic space. But you're in a very typical part of London, which is kind of privileged. I think we know a lot about power through the management of public spaces, so I wanted to create a piece that engaged with these ideas. I didn’t want to be illustrative or didactic - I wanted Agora to have some pleasure principle engaged in it too.
I'm pleased with it because it's slightly ‘nowhere’. There's a feeling that you don't quite know where you are. You feel you're on some sort of film set - you think, ‘Are we meant to be in LA?’ It's a sort of fiction, because the city isn't built so we can look at it. It's built because people are interested in ground rents and real estate.
Agora is a thick, continuous aluminium painted marking, meandering across the floor and sometimes incorporating the walls. Can you talk about how it came to take this form?
I was thinking about how American roofs are sealed with aluminium paint, and how the fall of light forces you to change your position. When you're near water you move your posture. People’s behaviour on the beach is partly to do with managing light, which is why Europeans are so funny when they go galloping around and end up looking like gazpacho - the locals don't go in the sun. I’m interested in the things that influence how we conduct ourselves in the city.
I also had an idea that Agora could be a snare - that you would feel you were walking through a kind of visual entrapment. I'm very proud of the way that it’s inescapable; the moment you walk in there, you're in it. It’s a device that lots of artists use, but it's usually, ‘I've got you to sit in my dark room, or my video lasts 30 minutes’. So there are other kinds of power displayed where you become mildly captive. I don't think it’s demanding in that way though – it's like being tapped on the shoulder.
There are also references to painting and figure/ground. I spent a lot of time working on the scale of the piece; calibration, speed, variety. I made huge templates, and worked up there physically with them. I'm really proud of it as a craft act.
How does it relate to the themes you explore in other works - your ongoing photographic series Making Do and Getting By, for example?
I’m interested in pattern. My photography is like sampling; it’s like collecting dust in your eye, bottling it and then noticing that there's some pattern in it. I'm both kinds of wanderer, the ‘A’ and the ‘O’. I photograph everything and nothing, but it tends to have to be an encounter. I never go to look for anything.
What I'm interested in is coincidence – literally, two incidents and the strange friction between them. I'm overly excited by space; the physical organisation of objects and the conversations between them, which are really at the root of all human contact. It’s interesting and very near the surface of my work.
Do you have any plans for Agora? Will it have a life beyond Bold Tendencies?
The executive painting team behind it are already saying, ‘Who would like to do this in LA?’ They made a lot of choices themselves, and I'm really pleased with that. But I don't know what the decision will be, whether they’ll leave it as it is, to wear out.
I think there are lots of things that are rather wonderful because they were once there and now they're nearly gone. Like the air raid shelters you see, with an arrow and an instruction, which we don’t even know how to read. You realise that it’s not from a film set, it’s from 1941. I think humans see tension in everything - they read. I suppose we are trace makers and most of the time we're trying not to let that be seen.
Agora is open to the public until 27 September 2015. To find out more, visit Bold Tendencies’ website.
Browse related images
Richard Wentworth’s images are available to license from Artimage. Our collection includes photographs from his ongoing series Making Do and Getting By, as well as installation shots of a range of sculptural works from the 1980s to the present. Browse a selection of related works below, or view all images here.
London 1999. Making Do and Getting By, 1999:
Islington, May 2010:
World Soup, 1991:
False Ceiling, 1995:
South West France, April 2011:
Aide Memoire, 1991:
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Image credits: Richard Wentworth with Agora at Bold Tendencies, Photography © Brian Benson, 2015; London 1999. Making Do and Getting By, 1999 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Photo: Richard Wentworth; Islington, May 2010 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Photo: Richard Wentworth; World Soup, 1991 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Image courtesy Lisson Gallery; False Ceiling, 1995 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Image courtesy Lisson Gallery; South West France, April 2011 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Photo: Richard Wentworth; Aide Memoire, 1991 © Richard Wentworth, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015, Image courtesy Lisson Gallery.