30 Jun Layla Curtis maps the Thames
I met Layla Curtis in June 2018 at Kings College London where she was giving a talk about her work. She mentioned a collage project made for the London Thames Festival some five years earlier. It is a map of the Thames made with slices cut out from other maps. I was intrigued not only by the craft of collage but the artistic process that Layla went through in order to produce this new map. After our meeting Layla kindly agreed to answer some questions by email:
YC: What inspired you to create place-related artwork? It seems to have been a long-term preoccupation.
LC: You’re right it has. I’ve been making work relating to place ever since I was a student at Edinburgh College of Art and made my first collaged map ‘United Kingdom’.
Layla Curtis gained her BA(Hons) in Painting at Edinburgh College of Art then moved to the Chelsea College of Art in London to complete a Masters in Fine Art Sculpture (1999-2000). See Layla’s website.
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, travelling and exploring and often rely on maps to plan my journeys. I became interested in the reliance we place on maps, the information that is omitted, and their often unseen subjectivity. I began experimenting with how I might use collage to disrupt this trusted system, create new juxtapositions and tell alternative stories.
YC: What preparatory work, (experimenting/exploration/research), did you do before creating The Thames collage?
LC: Before starting work on making the collage, I researched the history of the Thames, its industries and sea trade by making several trips to the Museum of London Docklands, The National Maritime Museum and the British Museum. I also walked the Thames Path east of Embankment, beyond the Thames Barrier and onto Crayford Marshes, so that I could experience the contemporary river and make relationships between the current riverscape and its historical past. I studied maps and sea charts of the Thames and traced the river’s namesakes around the world. I began uncovering the many links the Thames has with elsewhere and tracing the international journeys which began or ended at the Thames. After identifying and locating all of the maps I needed to reference this research I began the collaging process. While collaging, the work also grew organically, as the maps I was using revealed new connections (and possibilities for playfulness) which hadn’t been uncovered in my initial research.
YC: The original work is in ten parts. What were your criteria for choosing a section of the whole for a limited edition print?
LC: The first section of the ten-part collage was chosen to make into a limited edition print as it focuses on a stretch of the river which includes the iconic bend around the Isle of Dogs. Unlike other stretches of the river taken in isolation I think many people would immediately recognise this as being part of the Thames. It’s important to the work that, on first glance, viewers think that they’re looking at a map of Thames. This section of the collage is also very detailed so was very satisfying to make into a print.
Limited edition prints of the first section of the ten-part collage ‘The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)’ are available from Edgework. The dimensions are 69.4 x 52cms (including 5cm border). Each print in the edition of eighty is signed and numbered.
YC: The work was created for the 2013 Thames Festival; What are your abiding memories of the event?
LC: Indeed the research and making process for this work was very time consuming and in order to meet tight deadlines I had to spend long hours in the studio. But my long-lasting memories are more tied to the enjoyment I felt in having an opportunity to research, experience and understand the river. I have lasting memories of my walks along the Thames Path and of being invited to watch one of the other Thames festival commissions ‘A Ship’s Opera’ performed at night in the Thames basin. I still continue to walk the Thames path away from the city and explore the estuary. Shortly after I made the collaged work I heard about the derelict sea fort at No.1 The Thames and was thrilled to spend the night there with friends surrounded by sea. I’d love to explore the The Maunsell Forts* too at some point.
*The Maunsell Forts are armed towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during the Second World War to help defend the United Kingdom.