“What even is it?”

Today the class and I met Jane Madsen who makes 16mm videos and movies. We watched her film called ‘Elephant Steel’ which is a short 6 minute film on the monument that is situated on the traffic island outside Elephant & Castle station, where the old roundabout used to be. This brutalist structure, designed  by Rodney Gordon in 1959 and constructed in 1961, is actually the housing for the electrical substation for the London Underground’s northern line as well as a memorial monument to Michael Faraday (1971 -1867) who was an English scientist who contributed a lot to the studies of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.

It was interesting to see that, although most of the class walk past this cold metal structure every day when coming to and leaving uni, not a lot of people knew what it was or had not even noticed it. I myself always knew that the monument was there because the concrete benches surrounding the monument are actually very popular within the skate community of London and it is considered one of the most notorious skate spots in the city, so the monument features in a lot of skate videos on the internet.

I have also read a book in the past on another one of London’s sub-cultures, graffiti, it is called London hand styles and it’s a book put together by legendary London graffiti writers; it includes lots of images, quotes and stories from writers from all over the city. One writer ‘REGRET’ shares a story about when him and another writer ‘NEAT’ were down in the tunnels of Elephant and Castle painting trains for the first time in the early hours of the morning. Once finished, they needed an exit, so NEAT climbed up a ladder into complete darkness and appeared ten minutes later saying “I have found the way out to the street” so they both climbed up the ladder into a small room, then another and then came across an underground workers tea room, “we sneaked past the door and opened another door, we were now on the streets in the middle of the Elephant and Castle roundabout!”. After reading the story, whenever I walk past and look at the steel monument I always imagine REGRET and NEAT walking off, blending back into a crowd with a smug yet relieved look on both their faces.

One reason why I believe a lot of people do not notice the monument is because of the 728 polished steel panels that surround the box structure. They alter, bend and refract the lights projected onto them by the surroundings which kind of acts like an invisibility cloak for the monument, it is there but it is not really there. I haven’t yet decided if I actually like the monument, sometimes I think it is growing on me, but mostly I just do not get it! What I did find interesting is that a lot of Michael Faraday’s work is to do with gyro-electromagnetism and rotation, so the fact that his monument is, well was on a roundabout makes the positioning completely relevant to his work and therefore reflects his studies well.

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