Last Orders: London Open House

Last Orders, the Steamship Project Space, September 2021

‘calling the river’ photo installation by Gillian McIver

I was very happy to participate in ‘Last Orders’ an exhibition at the Steamship Project Space in Blackwall, in September for the annual Open House London event. Open House London is a two day event held to celebrate London’s architectural wonders. Open House London  throws open the doors of iconic buildings and spaces around the capital where visitors can enjoy free access to buildings which are not usually open to public, from private houses to places of worship, museums, schools and offices, and join live or virtual tours and guided walks .

Because the Steamship is a historic listed building being one of the very few old dockside Inns that is still standing it was featured in this year’s Open House London and so the artist collective that lives and works in the Steamship decided, of course, to mount an exhibition and two nights of musical performances

I was invited to participate, and I was thinking about what I would like to present. I knew it would be something to do with photography and so I started to think about the reading and research I was currently doing about magic and I somehow connected that to my existing interest in the Docklands area of Blackwall. I conducted an artist discussion based on the text “Formulary for a New Urbanism” and I made a photo installation on three small screens.

The Thames is a silver thread that flows through the city, uniting it as one and dividing it in two: the north bank and the south, the docks east of London Bridge and the grand palaces to the bridge’s west. It is a conduit for travel, not only physical travel from the source to the sea and beyond.

[abover, ’72 Angels of the Shem HaMephorash scribed in the sand, Bermondsey Beach 09/21′]

Thinking about the ‘Steamship’ as a vessel and the ancient port of Blackwall on the river, I plotted a series of imagined journeys made along the river by some of London’s most enigmatic and fascinating magicians: Doctor John Dee, embarking at Blackwall in 1583 on the first stage of his voyage to the mystical court of the Alchemist emperor Rudolf II in Prague; Aleister Crowley, taking ship in 1904 for Cairo where he would – allegedly –  receive the wisdom of the ancients that was the foundation of Thelemic practice; and a few years later, the great Goddess-diviner Dion Fortune, priestess of Isis, walking the Thames in the   moonlight.

To commemorate each of these voyages I have created sets of images that include rune casting and sigils* – cryptic spells that encode some kind of call or summoning, and which must be quickly dispersed or erased, by water, air, earth or fire.

I walked the Thames beaches in low tide and gathered stones. I painted runes on the stones and returned to the beach to cast the runes, leaving them on the foreshore to one day return to the sea. I drew sigils in the sand then walked over them until they vanished. I drew sigils on paper and set fire to them on the foreshore  the smoke rising into the air and dissipating. I copied dark spells from ancient grimoires onto black paper, then tried to burn them. But they would not burn! Instead, they kept floating away, and I could not recapture them! Up into the air they flew, and into the river.

Artist led discussion

As an art historian and artist I have long been interested in London’s river as a start and end point for journeys. I gathered the artists and friends at the Steamship  to read and discuss  the text “Formulary for a New Urbanism” by the Situationist Gilles Ivain / Ivan Chtcheglov as an invocation of the Steamship as a ‘magical locale’ and an always-moving vessel for creativity.

The text

‘black spells cast into air’