Tropical Thames

Art and auctions, Events, Exhibitions — By on September 7, 2017 at 9:34 PM

Anne Krinsky

Tropical Thames – artist Anne Krinsky’s tribute at Crossrail Roof Garden to maritime history

By James Brewer

On the site of the once-bustling West India Docks, amid the towering blocks of the regenerated London Docklands development, Canary Wharf, lies a tranquil haven.

Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a mere three storeys above river-level, and – it opened in 2015 – is as yet little blazed on the tourist trail.

Partially open to the sky, partially roofed, the design of this biosphere is patterned on a ship of the kind which for decades tied up here, laden with thousands of tons of commodities and exotic flora from around the world.

Sea Change and Seeing Double. By Anne Krinsky.

One of London’s most imaginative artists, Anne Krinsky, has with a new installation brought to the roof garden her interpretation of the location’s deep historical significance. She names her project Tropical Thames, in tribute to the backstory and the luxuriant plant life which frames the pathways.

Anne has added eight large-scale digital prints with imagery inspired by Thames architectural structures in southeast London – docks, piers, river walls and stairs – that were shaped by two centuries of shipping and trade.

She says that Tropical Thames responds to the garden’s geometry, its dramatic roof structure and to the species including substantial groups of ferns that are on display. These species native to countries visited by ships of the West India Dock Company, first arrived in Britain to be unloaded at the then extensive Thames docks.

Tropical Thames. By Anne Krinsky;

She has mounted her prints on dibond aluminium panels, which complement calculatedly and lyrically the roof garden setting.

Anne is delighted to be living by the Thames. Since she moved from Boston, Massachusetts, in 2012 she has lived near the river in Surrey Quays and works out of Thames-Side Studios, a large complex for fine arts and craft practitioners, just east of the Thames Barrier in Woolwich. “I am inspired by the river because I see it all the time,” she says.

For the commission, her methodology was to create hybrid images, projecting photos she had taken onto the surfaces of her Thames paintings and re-photographing the results, cutting and collaging to produce the final prints. She researched two centuries of London’s trade, and pondered too the question of climate change: what rising temperatures and sea levels could mean for the tidal river. “Tropical Thames might be a beautiful nightmare,” she worries.

The large-scale cargo docks which provided work for many thousands of East Enders had their origin in the late 18th century, when traders from America and the Caribbean were fed up with their wares being prey to piracy and theft at the older, overcrowded wharves. A group of businessmen lobbied parliament for permission to build a secure dock for cargoes including sugar, coffee and spices.

Submerged. By Anne Krinsky.

The West India Docks which opened in 1802 were considered the greatest engineering structure of the day, according to one of the excellent information panels in the roof garden. The advent of containerisation and roll-on roll-off shipping swung business away to rival quaysides and ports, and one by one the three docks in the area closed, the West India in 1980, to be transformed into the Manhattan-style Canary Wharf redevelopment.

Elements of the maritime heritage are honoured at the roof garden, which is a few minutes’ walk from Canary Wharf and West India Quay stations, and which sits above what will be a new station for Crossrail.

Crossrail 1, running from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through 42km of new tunnels under London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, is a £14.8bn project which will be known as the Elizabeth Line. The massive infrastructure exercise has involved building 10 new stations and upgrading 30.

Path between panels.

Planned to open in December 2018, the new station at Canary Wharf, 250 m in length, is surrounded by the waters of West India Quay dock. The Crossrail website says: “Designing a station to be built 18 m below water level presented significant design challenges but has resulted in optimum access to and through the Canary Wharf Estate while retaining a navigable channel for boats within the dock.”

Initially, trains will run to Paddington from Abbey Wood, and the full line is scheduled to open in December 2019.

The roof garden and adjoining shopping and leisure complex was designed by Foster + Partners and landscaped by London-based studio Gillespies. There is a 60-seat performance area where in summer Canary Wharf Group, in partnership with the Space Theatre, puts on theatre and music.

Installation and view to the Thames.

Crossrail Place is on the Meridian, and the garden plants are arranged according to hemisphere of origin, with Asian specimens such as bamboos to the east, and plants such as ferns from the Americas to the west. The 310 m long timber lattice roof lets in light and rain for natural irrigation, and through the foliage there are views for many miles over the north banks of the Thames.

Many of the plants brought in earlier days to Europe were preserved thanks to the invention of what is known as the Wardian case, a sealed protective holder which was an early version of the terrarium. This type of case was named after Dr Nathaniel B Ward, a physician who had a passion for botany.

Roof garden is dwarfed by skyscrapers.

In the botanical haven, there is a huge emphasis on tree ferns which are common in the wet tropics. One of those described here is the soft tree fern, Dicksonia Antarctica, which is native to south-eastern Australia and can grow in the wild up to 15 m high. It was first brought to the UK at the end of the 20th century by ships returning from Australia, and is named after the British nurseryman James Dickson (1734-1822).

Not all is peace here – strolling through this exotic roof garden, profuse with ferns, tall grasses and flowering shrubs, the background soundtrack is a mixture of seagulls, planes serving London City Airport, and the rapid clack of heels of homeward-bound finance sector workers.

Anne Krinsky is delighted that the garden is “really a public space” in contrast to some other retreats in dense urban areas where booking is required to gain access.

At the Sky Garden atop the Walkie-Talkie building in the City, at 20 Fenchurch Street, the number of tickets, which must be reserved through an online booking system with strict conditions, is limited each day, although free of charge.

Crossrail Place.

Floors 35 to 37 of the Walkie-Talkie contain London’s highest public garden and its “most exclusive social spaces, including observation decks and an open-air terrace.” Under a large glass dome, it offers 360-degree uninterrupted views across the City.

Anne is admired for her work in analogue and digital media – painting, printmaking, photography and video. She has made installations in response to materials in archived collections in the US, the UK and India.

Another installation view.

An Arts Council England grant in 2016 supported Tide Line Thames, a project in which she is involved that explores the river and its architecture between the high and low tide lines. With artist Tom Pearman, she has created an installation of light-projected imagery for the Thames Tunnel Shaft of the Brunel Museum. This is also part of the 2017 Totally Thames Festival,

The installation merges Anne’s video footage of the river and its architecture with Tom’s animations of faux tunnelling forms, inspired by Brunel’s Tunnel and Tunnel Shaft. It was developed inside the tunnel shaft and projected directly onto its rough, curved walls. Screenings continue until September 30, 2017, at the Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, London SE16, daily at 2pm-5pm, and entry is free with museum admission which is priced at £6 and £4. Because of early closure on some rehearsal days, it is wise to call ahead of visiting he museum: 020 7231 3840.

Boardroom Sacrifice. By Beth Cullen Kerridge.

Tropical Thames, which continues until October 15, is a Canary Wharf Arts Commission. During September, it also is part of London’s Totally Thames Festival. Crossrail Place Roof Garden address is Canary Wharf E14, and opening hours are 6am- 9 pm daily. Totally Thames website is

The roof garden simultaneously houses a separate stand-out artwork, a bronze and steel cast of a crumpled business shirt, entitled Boardroom Sacrifice. This is by Beth Cullen Kerridge, who is noted for such apparel-like pieces. She has worked as an assistant in foundries producing works for Eduardo Paolozzi, Elisabeth Frink, Alberto Giacometti and Sir Anthony Caro. Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Beth, when she is not sculpting and her husband run a gastropub in Buckinghamshire.

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