As I descended the steep staircases down into Tower Bridge’s underbelly, I felt like an urban explorer. The Bascule Chamber is a hidden space deep beneath the Thames. It’s dark and damp, but I was filled with anticipation as the building’s inner workings revealed themselves.
It was all part of an art installation, the theme of which was uncharted territories. Its name, Here be Dragons, promised the adventure of the unknown. Fittingly, it’s a phrase which appeared on medieval maps to indicate regions no one had ever visited.
The work was created by artists from the Guildhall School. It combined light, sound, and projected imagery. The audience sat in rows with headphones on. The visuals gave the impression that the walls in the chamber were crumbling, opening up, breathing and a whole host of other stunning effects.
The captivating array of vocal soundbites, mysterious music and abstract forms left me slack jawed at times. The images were hypnotic. They sort of swam about the room, sometimes becoming clear for a moment, before dissolving into a sea of ambiguity. The hour long show was extremely colourful and complex. Making it must have consumed an awful lot of the students’ time and energy.
It was a sample heavy installation. At times it sounded a bit like a DJ Shadow record. There was music on the way down and up again too, in the shape of two singers performing flamboyant, theatrical songs that could have been written by a J-rock band. The actors and the setting conspired to make me feel like I was in a particularly surreal dream.
Alarmingly, in the briefing for the performance they told us that the room in which it took place houses enormous counterweights used to raise the landmark and allow tall vessels to pass underneath. When in use they fill the entire space. We were assured that the bridge wasn’t scheduled to open, but I did think about what would happen if a ship came along whilst we were down there.
Here be Dragons was an open ended show, the meaning of which was down to the individual’s interpretation. I was unable to extract anything cohesive and felt as if it was to be enjoyed on its own terms.
The marriage of such an old place and a contemporary spectacle created something new and otherworldly. It felt super modern, and better than a film on an IMAX cinema screen, as it made full use of the space, projecting onto three walls and the ceiling.