Backflow Preventer, 2015
The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Peckham Rye Park, London, UK
Back Flow Preventer is a proposal for a sculptural landscape intervention in Peckham Rye Park, which uses the River Peck, one of London's many diverted rivers as a point of departure. Back Flow Preventer is a site-specific installation, which responds to the varied contemporary form of the River Peck. This artwork questions our relationship to nature in context of the built environment both historically and in the present day. Back Flow Preventer is a meandering, inverted concrete sculpture, punctuated by two water storage tanks, occupying the location in the landscape where the River Peck once flowed. When the sculpture is removed there will be a depression, which would ideally remain unfilled as a reminder of the Pecks original watercourse.
The river Peck is not a lost river, though it is frequently referred to as such. It has an interesting and varied course, which takes on many forms. The characteristics of the Peck become particularly interesting and divergent in Peckham Rye Park. The Peck enters Peckham Rye Park at its most southern point as a spring, flowing down the North West side of the park. This momentary flow is the most "natural" physical state of the Peck. There is a distinct linear path of marshland covered with vegetation. This area swells with water during and after heavy rains, allowing the natural watercourse of the Peck to reveal itself. From there the Peck is diverted underground and re-emerges in Peckham Rye Park as the Ornamental Pond where it then is channelled through a water flow system and manifests itself terrestrially as the picturesque, streams, lakes and ponds that make up the idyllic landscapes of Peckham Rye Park. Through the aesthetics and engineering of Victorian decadence, the Peck is fully appreciated as a river in this part of PRP. Ironically its presence as a river is completely artificial due to the engineering implemented by the parks water flow system.
Back Flow Preventer would be ideally placed at the west side of PRP, adjacent to Forest Hill Road, where the Peck once flowed and is now diverted underground. The sculpture will occupy a length of an estimated twenty four meters, with a width that will vary from sixty centimetres to one meter and a depth averaging around sixty five centimetres.. The shape of the sculpture will meander, widen and taper over the twenty-four meters but will ultimately retain a straight, linear trajectory. Back Flow Preventer will be made of concrete canvas, a concrete textile that remains flexible until it encounters water. The concrete canvas will be layered across the width of the cavity, evoking the presence of a vacant water flow. Back Flow Preventer will be exhibited without water running through it and will be installed with sufficient drainage to accommodate rainwater.
On the west side of the cavity, centrally located along the length of the sculpture will be two concrete plinth mounting 700 litre water tanks. These water tanks refer to the two 700 litre tanks installed underground near the Ornamental Garden of Peckham Rye Park, which enable the river Peck to be most experienced by visitors as a river. These tanks, juxtaposing the subtle characteristics of the recessed concrete canvas, will contribute a strong visual and contextual dimension to the work.
The installation would ideally exist in Peckham Rye Park from the late Spring until the early Autumn. During the installation the west side of the cavity will be planted with a variety of wild flowers framing the artwork and softening the industrial nature of the materials used in the artwork. During de-installation, the concrete canvas will be removed but the cavity will remain, leaving a trace of the sculpture, which will become a direct reference to the original watercourse of the river Peck.
Back Flow Preventer is a site-specific installation which emphasis the ways in which we utilise natural systems in our built environment. The river Peck had and still has a multiplicity of roles in the urban landscape of South East London. This includes, a geographical boundary, a municipal sewer, and most interestingly, aesthetically as a river in artificial form.