The Morgue – 04 / 06 July 2017
Private View – 1730 / 1930 – 04 July 2017
Exhibition & Autopsy conducted by
BIANCHI Benedetta & SIEGFRIED Malou
Layered Spaces is a project coming from a shared interest regarding the concept of space and especially the history and atmosphere that a certain place lived and still lives in its years and times. As MA students at Chelsea College of Arts, we were interested in the discovery of the space’s layers of where the College is now existing. Therefore, with this exhibition we aim to investigate the history of the area and how the buildings changed their functions according to the context.
How could a thin layer of white paint completely change the use of something ?
The featuring of George Perec’s Species of Space (1974) represents the genesis of the spacial concept that Layered Space investigates. In his text, the author invites us to a journey through different dimensions illustrating how many layers and forms space could inhabit.
Where you are now, was once the Royal Army Medical College’s Morgue; the place where autopsy and studies of the bodies’ anatomies were developed and researched. The post mortem instruments set is here to recall the past medical function and yet to metaphorically represent the autopsical process the exhibition is illustrating.
The approach of dissecting the different layers and the evaluation of now present hidden or evident materiality of the building leads to a chronological and narrative journey of the history of Chelsea College original environments through the concept of space: from the present (Chelsea College of Arts) moving towards (Royal Army Medical College) to the very beginning of the places’s history: the Milbank Penitentiary.
Thus the visitor, once arrived in the Morgue, is invited to place himself as an atomist and to deeply investigate the layers of the space which shows the environments’ successions and changes.
For most of the 19th Century the river frontage to Millbank was dominated by the huge bulk of the Millbank Penitentiary (1816-1890), the first national prison. When it opened in June 1816, the Millbank Penitentiary was the largest prison in Britain.
Forged from Scottish Collalo stone, the penitentiary was set out in a hexagonal architecture encompassing six-petal shaped wings with a chapel in the centre. This particular typology is called Panopticon and it is a reference to Panoptes who is a giant with hundred eyes and known to be an effective watchman. The Millbank Penitentiary closed in 1890 and the lengthy demolition process commenced two years later.
Millbank Penitentiary (1816-1890) original area is the group formed by the now Tate Britain (1897), the Royal Army Medical College (1907-1999), the Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital (1905-1970’s) and the Millbank Estate (1897- 1902).
The now Tate Britain opened in 1897 as National Gallery of British Art and the remaining vacant land became home to a housing estate, the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the former Royal Army Medical School. Today, the angled street layout surrounding Tate Britain gives an idea of where the Millbank Penitentiary once stood. The Millbank Estate, in the western part of the former penitentiary site, was one of the fist large council housing estate for the working classes, and accommodated 4500 people. It is, by reason of its date and design, an important milestone in the development of local authority housing and the evolution of ‘Arts and Crafts’ principles of architecture as applied to large-scale housing projects.
In 1986, Royal Army Medical College became what today is Chelsea College of Arts.
Curators would like to thank Colonel Frank Davis, Chairman of Friends of Millbank for his help on this curatorial project. We would like to thank Rob Macintosh, curator of Museum of Military Medicine in Aldershot for the loan of the artefact.
Thanks to Donald Smith, director of CHELSEA space for his support and the equipment during the installation.