The Hackney Downs Mosaic, London.

Part II of a two part post on the mosaic work of the Hackney Mosaic Project, designed and led by Tessa Hunkin.

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Elephant detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

In 2,000 years or so, a fisherman out in a small boat on the waters which cover the long submerged city of London, will be leaning over the side of his vessel hauling in his line when something will catch his eye. Accustomed to sailing over the ruins of crumpled sky scrapers and following the tangled routes of once busy thoroughfares, he will wonder if it’s just a shadow or something new and shiny dropped from an earlier craft, but he’ll steady the boat, look again and see something clearly beneath the surface.

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Tree detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

A storm the day before will have shifted a bank of silt and the fisherman will be the first to glimpse a small corner of the Hackney Downs Mosaic for more than a thousand years.

DSCN9030Over the ensuing months, with much fanfare and wonder, the mosaic will be excavated and removed to dry land. A special building will be made to house the newly-discovered work. There will be a grand opening and the fisherman will stand awkwardly to one side as a dignitary, surrounded by a coterie of excited archeologists whose learned theses on the origins of the mosaic will suggest others still lie submerged, will announce that it is open to the public.

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The Hackney Downs Mosaic decorating a playground shelter. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Meanwhile, if you dont have 2,000 years on your hands, you can get off the overground train at Hackney Downs, walk along an unprepossessing North London street lined by social housing and turn left over what was once common land to arrive at the playground in the centre of Hackney Downs park. Open the latch to the little gate, walk in and it’s all yours. No entrance fee, no crowds, no one there but a few children crouched in the sand pit and some parents idly standing by.

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Mouse detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

‘…beautiful and captivating and artistically tasteful..,’ so said British comedian Russell Brand at the opening ceremony of the Hackney Downs Mosaic in October, 2014. Yes, Mr. Brand, oh yes, but also so, so much more.

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Porcupine detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

The 40 square metre mosaic completed over nine months by a team of volunteers shows an assortment of large and small wild animals interspersed with stylised trees and plants. The animals, which range from the familar and loved to the more obscure, are busy about their business. Each is boldly labelled and transmits an expressive energy:

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Antelope detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

It is a work that illustrates and combines all the very best that mosaic is capable of: brilliantly designed, visually stunning, technically perfect. It has energy, humour, ambition, function, and community. It has so much, in fact, that one is tempted to down one’s tools and declare oneself redundant, to have a bit of an Ozymandias wobbly, to succumb if not to despair then to a sort of incredulous awe. This is mosaic with a capital M.

There is so much to it. First, the three main sections:

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Central panel, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.
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Left side panel, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.
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Right side panel, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

Then the wonderfully idiosyncratic ‘signature’ panels by the volunteers (and an alien):

A section made by Tessa to cover an unsightly hatch:

DSCN9151The borders and pillars:

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DSCN9115Then, when you’ve taken it all in, or tried to (but like all great things it needs time to absorb), there are the details:

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Flower and bear detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

 

But perhaps for me, as often with large mosaics, it is the sense of many hands at work, of the shared effort and the collective spirit which makes this mosaic so remarkable. For many long hours the volunteers painstakingly worked on their individual sections, bit by glued down bit creating something that surpasses their individual efforts to make something much, much greater in the whole than it could ever be in parts. The ancients started it:

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Floor detail. Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

and the Hackney Mosaic Project carries on the timeless, time defying tradition.

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Tree detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
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Plant and animal rump detail – revel in the colours – Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
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Baboon detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

 

Coming soon: Mosaic Studios – How to organise your mosaic space. 

I would be very happy to receive photographs of your mosaic workspace, however humble or grand, to help illustrate the piece. Please send to helenmilesmosaics@gmail.com

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