Fish Island logo on stone

Fish-Island-based artist William Cobbing has won a commission for a new permanent artwork in Fish Island Village in Tower Hamlets.

Published: 06/08/2020

The site is a new 2.85-hectare canalside neighbourhood comprising 588 mixed-tenure new homes and 5,522m2 workspace, opposite Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Masterplanned by Haworth Tompkins, Fish Island Village is planned as an ensemble of 21 mid-rise blocks arranged around a public square and series of yards.

The brief called for a work of art, or series of small works, that responds to the architecture and setting; addressing identity, placemaking, and navigation of the public space. The open call was organised and funded by Hill and Peabody, joint venture partners on the development.

Drawing on the community of artists local to the area – historically, Hackney Wick Fish Island has been home to one of the highest concentrations of artists, designers and artisans in Europe – the selection panel sought proposals from local artists who could reflect on their own experiences of the area.

Cobbing’s winning proposal for a £40,000 artwork, Written in Water, is a site-specific installation comprising a constellation of twelve cast iron plates embedded in the ground. Redolent of manhole covers, they are integrated into the paving of the new development’s public square and yards, and embossed with quotes or local stories, creating a portal to the area’s past.

The texts, derived from many sources including oral histories, provide a kind of psycho-geographical exploration of Fish Island. They reveal the memories rooted in the area: from the recollections of horse-drawn barges and old factories to personal and cultural reflections marking particular spots. Written in Water’s enhancement of the site with distinct visual markers allows the pedestrian pause points and linear views, and in the process creates 'thresholds' between visible and hidden worlds.

It is envisaged that the work will be a navigational aid to residents, workers and visitors to the development and will provide a playful moment of discovery for pedestrians exploring this newly developed canalside public realm.

The selection panel was led by arts consultant Kathryn Standing and comprised representatives from Hill, Peabody and Haworth Tompkins. Other shortlisted artists included Agata Madejska and Kate Terry. Written in Water is now being fabricated in an iron foundry with anticipated installation in late 2020.

William Cobbing said: "This project has a special significance to me as my mother and grandmother were from the east end, and my studio is now on Fish Island, so I cycle here along the River Lea towpath. I've seen this extraordinary area transform over the years, and the sculpture commission aims to reimagine the area's histories by bringing forth echoes from the past."

James McMylor, Regional Development Director at Peabody said: "Our aim at Fish Island Village is to create a sustainable place and add to the rich cultural experience for residents and the local community. William's concept draws on the history, stories and natural beauty of the area, we are very excited to see it come to life".

Adam Boylin, Senior Technical Coordinator at Hill and competition judge, said: "Residents of Fish Island Village and the surrounding community will be able to enjoy Will’s artwork for years to come. His work not only pays homage to Fish Island’s heritage but also celebrates the area’s vibrant canal-side setting. We are delighted with the concept presented and are really looking forward to seeing the artwork in place later this year."

Graham Haworth, Haworth Tompkins, said: "With help from the existing community of artists in Hackney Wick, we identified a strong shortlist of local artists and chose Will’s narrative proposal because it provides an accessible link to the cultural memory of the place, which helps to reinforce the connection of the new buildings and spaces with the existing neighbourhood."

While Arts Consultant Kathryn Standing added: "Much of Will’s past work has looked at the boundaries between body and landscape, and Written in Water is an insightful evocation of this theme. Revealing the hidden layers of the evolving landscape through the spoken word, people’s lives across generations are brought into view, where they can be seen as both inherent and contiguous to the development of this part of London."

  • Fish Island Village welcomed its first residents in autumn 2018, and The Trampery announced its first workspace tenants in November 2019. Phases 1 and 2 are now complete, phase 3 has planning approval and is currently under construction. The final phase of private sale homes launched earlier this year, with London Help to Buy available on homes priced at £600,000 and under.

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