The film documents Ken Wilder's installation within the London Foundling mortuary, Bloomsbury. Skylights was commissioned by Coram to celebrate a new phase of Coram's campus redevelopment, and the construction stage of The Queen Elizabeth II Centre. One poignant factor of the old mortuary is that boys and girls were separated even in death. Timed to mark the summer solstice, Wilder’s light and water installation flooded the boys’ and girls’ rooms, inserting two new skylights: one oriented towards the midday sun, and one to the evening sun. Children were invited to splash in the puddle rooms, while adults were invited to reflect upon the deeper significance of the historic spaces. The installation thus set out to reanimate a space, through patterns of reflected light, inexorably linked to loss. Indeed, the very need for the on-site mortuary, an outbuilding of the then ‘new’ infirmary (c. 1892-4), was prompted by the high rates of nineteenth century infant mortality. The commission for the infirmary followed the outbreak of 35 cases of typhoid fever at the Foundling Hospital, between 6 October and 14 December 1891. The installation sought to acknowledge this history, while simultaneously celebrating life. It reanimated a space that for many years had functioned as a general store. In opening up the voids to the sky, Skylights (metaphorically) allowed the spirits of the children to rise up out of the building prior to its demolition. The soundtrack documents contemporary life, while also the sounds emanating from the extraordinary trees that grew within the Foundling Hospital gardens. Onto this sound track is overlaid György Ligeti’s 1966 Lux Aeterna, a Requiem Mass for 16 voices, which ends with the words: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them).
Based at Chelsea College of Arts, Dr Ken Wilder is the University of the Arts London Reader in Spatial Design