In 2011 Rob Bowman invited the Brazilian artist José Damasceno to collaborate on a new project for Artangel. He led the commissioning process, working closely with the artist on initial development of ideas, and overseeing all aspects of its production and realisation from finances and fundraising, to fabrication, display and engagement.

Plot developed from research the artist undertook in London during a series of visits over two years. Rob facilitated this development process and led the production team in a lengthy process of site research in and around the City of London, locating buildings and spaces that might resonate with Damasceno’s sculptural language and feed his ideas. Through a dialogue with Camden Council, he eventually identified an opportunity to work at Holborn Library.

Built in the late ’50s, Holborn Library was the first multi-functional, post-war library in London. Its architecture was pioneering for the period. Although the library has remained in use (and is still, even as it faces redevelopment) some of its spaces were not at that time publicly accessible. Damasceno developed ideas to interact with the library’s function as a space for reading—and by extension discovery and imagination—but also for rest and respite, not obstructing but enhancing use and experience. Exploration of non-public areas in the building prompted a proposal to strip back a third-floor space originally designed as cinema and auditorium (once used by a local Hammer Horror film club) the features of which were hidden by additions including a suspended ceiling.

The use of this space became central to Plot‘s form, but negotiating it was one of the key challenges facing the production team. Rob had to manage sensitivity and resistance on the part of those managing the building, not least because it meant facilitating public access to spaces not covered by the safety and management policies. He successfully overcame these barriers, fostering positive relationships with library staff and key council personnel, addressing practical problems with appropriate solutions, and putting in place resources for the project to work in a sympathetic way with existing library services. The sensitivity in the production of the project was reflected in the form, fabrication and installation process of the connected works across the building. Each piece was conceived by Damasceno as a ‘light touch’ intervention, effective in providing arresting incidental encounters for building users and offering starting points for longer journeys for those on a visit to see the project as a whole. Plot also included a unique artist’s book produced with Bookworks first shown in, and then donated to, the library’s special collections and archive. This provided Damasceno with the opportunity to link together a rich range of the references and source material collected during his research, from horror films to Monty Python’s confuse-a-cat sketch.

Project Information

Name: José Damasceno, Plot (2013)
Role: Producer / Head of Production

Commissioning Producer: Artangel
Design and Fabrication: Patrick Seaman, Marcus Wagner, Matthew Appleton
Installation Manager: Jonathan Murphy
Production Coordinator: Sinéad McCarthy 
Production Assistant: Juliane Peiser