Label: Musicus Phÿcus - MPCD991 • Format: CDr • Country: Canada • Genre: Electronic • Style: Industrial, Noise
I n the early hours of Monday May 24, a CCTV camera overlooking an industrial unit on a business park in Leyton, east London, was deliberately tampered with. A burglar or burglars then broke into the unit, bypassing its metal door by boring in through a brick wall, and began to steal the contents: watches, cordless phones, DVD players and fax machines.
What happened next If Art Cannot Be Sold Then It Must Be Destroyed - Phÿcus - Only Fire And Death been investigated by the police, 13 fire brigade specialists and a dog trained to sniff out the kind of fluids arsonists use. They are still not sure what happened, but according to the fire investigation report, which has been seen by the Guardian, the flames that caught between 1. The unit was one of 34 housed in a building on the Cromwell Industrial Estate, converted from an old factory once used by Chubb, the If Art Cannot Be Sold Then It Must Be Destroyed - Phÿcus - Only Fire And Death.
Most of the units, like the one burgled, were small square spaces with steel shuttered doorways opening off the building's long sides. They were home to all sorts of prides, joys and nice little earners; there was a carpenter's shop, a car workshop, a cleaning business, a steel fabrication outfit, firms run by families, friends, lone entrepreneurs, some ephemeral, some long-established, all steering the small business person's perilous course between profit, loss and the taxman.
Running down through the centre of the building, however, like the nave through a cathedral, were two much larger rooms, each some 60m long and 15m wide. One of these belonged to a small London household removals company, Goldstar Removals, which did not have the volume of business needed to fill it.
Accordingly, sinceGoldstar had been renting it, as a warehouse, to a different sort of concern: Momart, Britain's most successful handlers, packers and shippers of artworks.
Locked away in this space that night, packed in foam and handmade wooden crates, was a store of 20th-century British art, the size, breadth and richness of which no private collector has rivalled.
There was Patrick Heron's La Ville Est Là - Isabelle Aubret - La Ville Est Là / La Chanson DOrphée Light, painted at his home in the Eagle's Nest in Cornwall instrokes of brilliant colour which Heron declared belonged to "the realm of pure visual sensation" and which his biographer Mel Gooding numbered among the most spectacularly beautiful paintings made anywhere since There was Gillian Ayres' enormous canvas Altair, more than three metres square, painted in with her characteristic thick ruts and peaks of oil paint, energetic with shades of blue.
Almost as large was Craigie Horsfield's black and white photograph of Barcelona, Carrer Muntaner, unimaginably hard to print, taken one night in as part of a project that lasted three-and-a-half years. There was Hell, by Jake Kevin Max - Traveler (Mora Brothers Remixes) Dinos Chapman, fabricated from toportraying mass slaughter and torture in thousands of plastic soldiers and paint.
Only a curator of extraordinary crassness or soaring imagination would have considered putting these works, and the scores of others in the warehouse, in a single exhibition, but that night, fire was the curator. Nobody would ever see these works again. Michael Craig-Martin, whose painting Mood Change One was one of the Saatchi-owned works destroyed, is a bridge between the two sets of British artists affected by the fire, the abstract painters of the s and s like Heron and Ayres, whom he knew, and the conceptual artists who were young in the s, such as Damien Hirst, whom he taught.
He argued that the loss that night was far greater than has yet been understood in Britain, even though he does not consider there were any masterpieces there. It seems to me that in this fire enough was lost, certainly by certain people, that the fabric of that record, of that continuity, is lost. If you lose most of Patrick Heron's work, if big chunks of things are lost, if big chunks of early work are lost I think there are very few cultural equivalents of fire damaging quite so many artworks.
There are famous library fires but this isn't quite the same. I never remember anything in my lifetime that is the equivalent. It happens. For a hundred artists to lose work simultaneously - whoa!
For certain artists If Art Cannot Be Sold Then It Must Be Destroyed - Phÿcus - Only Fire And Death lose 40 or 50 works simultaneously - that's unbelievable. Momart had its own entrances to the Cromwell estate warehouse, and was isolated from the other units internally by breezeblock walls. But by choosing a space which ran between dozens of local small businesses in a single building, the art movers, with their golden reputation, their blue-chip client list - the Queen, the Tates, the Smithsonian, Charles Saatchi, Damien Hirst - their millions of pounds in turnover and their staff of more than had chosen to share the fates of an arbitrary group of East End entrepreneurs whose vulnerabilities and security systems they had no power to control.
The burgled unit, number 47, was at the extreme south-western corner of the building, as far away from the Momart space - number 49 - as it could have been. Yet the fire, its initial intensity created by the ignition of several tonnes of highly flammable, plastic-rich consumer electronics which took the temperature inside the space to greater than 1,C - was able to spread throughout the building before the alarm was raised.
The lessee of the unit, who specialised in reconditioning cordless phones returned to retailers as faulty, told fire investigators that his burglar alarm wasn't working before the fire. His was not a high-end operation. His unit was so stuffed with consumer electronics that They Call It Home - Amon Düül* With Special Guest Robert Calvert - Die Lösung were even blocking the toilet.
Momart refused to answer questions about its fire security, but there is no evidence that it or any of the other unit owners and lessees had effective hour monitoring systems in place to warn of fire.
It does not appear that there were security guards on duty, either in the Momart warehouse or in any other part of the building. A set of CCTV cameras, operated for Waltham Forest council by the authorities in a neighbouring borough, Enfield, can see the building from nearby Argall Avenue, and their output is monitored 24 hours a day. But with cameras to watch, the handful of If Art Cannot Be Sold Then It Must Be Destroyed - Phÿcus - Only Fire And Death on duty didn't spot the fire on their screens, and only turned the cameras towards the warehouse when the police alerted them, 12 minutes after the fire brigade was called.
Even if the cameras had been pointed in the right direction the fire would have been hard to see on screen until it had either pierced the roof or broken through internal walls to one of the two large spaces, which had skylights.
In fact, that is what happened. It was householders and night workers coming to and from shifts, rather than any paid security operative, who first raised the alarm when they saw the flames smacking at the darkness.
London fire brigade logged the first emergency call at 3. Initially, despatchers told crews simply that they were heading for a "fire in a factory". Three fire ap Dirty Little Lies - Dubiel* - Box-O-Rox and a hose-laying unit were assigned, with a fourth appliance as the calls continued to come in.
The doors of fire stations in Leyton, Homerton, Walthamstow, Edmonton and Stoke Newington opened and disgorged engines into the deserted streets.
It was so quiet that the first crew arrived at the scene within five minutes. They realised at once that they had a rare inferno on their hands and requested two more fire appliances from brigade control. Five minutes later, they called for two more fire engines. It was an eight-pump fire; within hours, there would be It was turning into one of London's biggest fires for years.
The sun was coming up, and still none of the firefighters had any idea what was in the building, let alone that there were valuable artworks in unit Its main purpose is to warn fire crews of special hazards in particular buildings, but it also carries records of art and historical objects in London's museums and galleries.
On the database are last-ditch rescue plans in the event of the worst happening to a building like the National Gallery. Which is obviously the quickest way. You would rather lose a couple of inches around the edge than the whole painting. The fire brigade does not solicit entries to the CRR; they say there is no reason why Momart could not have approached them to register the presence of artworks in Unit 49, although it would have been unusual.
Anyway, Momart did not do so. On the morning of May 24, it was a moot point whether it would have made any difference. The upgrading of the fire to an eight-pump incident triggered the despatch of Fredericks to the scene at 4. When he opened his front door he smelled burning, although his house was four miles away down the valley of the river Lea. From the T-junction at the end of his road, in the dawn light, he could see the smoke.
It was roaring. The scene was one of organised bedlam as the fire crews rushed to fight the fire; unreeling hoses, setting up relays to use more powerful hydrants on Uglatto - Devo - Hardcore Devo Volume 1 (8-Track Cartridge) nearby Lea Bridge Road, diving into the burning building to take the water right to the flames.
Studying the site, however, Fredericks and his colleague, Brendan McAlone, were worried. Among the first thing the firefighters had done was to haul dozens of gas cylinders from the units on either side of the Momart warehouse and line them up against a wall.
The various small businesses with premises there had been using an extraordinary range of gases: acetylene, oxygen, propane, argon. Fredericks knew there were likely to be more such cylinders inside, and that in the intense heat of the fire they were likely to begin exploding, putting the lives of his men at risk. At the forefront of his mind was the knowledge that the previous day, a year-old firefighter had been killed in an explosion in a burning building in Cardiff, most likely the result of a gas cylinder exploding.
At one point, Fredericks followed a length of hose which went right inside the burning building and found two firefighters there, directing water on to the Tiger - Fabian - Turn Me Loose. Fredericks ordered them out, back against the wall of a neighbouring building. Sure that there were no lives at risk inside, sure that the building was doomed, concerned for the safety of firefighters and to defend the businesses on the rest of the estate, Fredericks and McAlone switched tactics.
To mimimise the risk from exploding cylinders, they pulled everyone back at least m from the fire, and for the next two days poured water on to the remnants of the building from aerial platforms and monitors - hose-carrying devices set on the ground. For the sake of the firemen's lives, it was a wise move. A video shot by the fire brigade shows an enormous orange fireball leaping out of one side of the building as If Art Cannot Be Sold Then It Must Be Destroyed - Phÿcus - Only Fire And Death cylinder explodes.
We didn't know what was in the building but we knew there was no life risk. Would he have acted any differently if he had known what was inside the Goldstar Removals warehouse? Fredericks paused for a moment. No one saw the art burn, but it would have made congenial tinder. The oil paint with which Ayres and Heron had thickly covered their large canvases with such panache would long before have yielded up its volatile elements, but the canvas itself, its wooden frames and the wooden boxes would have been quickly-consumed fuel.
The tent that Emin used as the basis for her work may have been treated with fire-retarding chemicals but this only inhibits ignition, not burning.
The fact that pictures tend to be stored vertically, rather than horizontally, would have helped the fire. We imagine an uncontrolled fire leaping visibly from object to adjacent object. In an enclosed space, this is not what happens. Heat, gas and smoke rise from the first area of ignition to begin to heat up the area just below the ceiling.
When that reaches a temperature of about C, a phenomenon known as "flashover" occurs: everything flammable on the ground can burst into flame at once. Most of the works in Momart's keeping would have turned to ash and vapour very quickly. One of the few items to survive even partly was the work considered by the late sculptor William Redgrave to be his best, a bronze triptych, weighing about Sight And Touch - Chris de Burgh - Live In Dortmund tonne, called The Event, made up of 49 vignettes of ordinary people smitten by history during small, intimate moments of their lives: kissing, smoking, singing, flirting, praying.
It took three years to make and a few hours to smash to pieces. Redgrave's son Chris managed to salvage about a third of the central panel from the ruins of the warehouse before it was levelled by the local council.
Chris Redgrave appears to be the only artist or relative of an artist to have visited the site. There's no way around that. It was a hot day when Redgrave clambered on to the rubble to search for fragments of his father's work. He had been reading his father's diaries, about the war years, when his father had worked as an air-raid warden, and the piles of bricks and mangled steel made him think of the blitz. I had to climb over steel girders. It looked like a twisted rollercoaster that had crashed.
Redgrave began to see scorched bronze heads from the sculpture and, with only a pair of gardening gloves to protect his hands, started to wrench them out of the rubble. Fragments of glass were everywhere, the gloves soon became useless, and he cut his hands badly. In two trips to the site, he rescued dozens of pieces of the sculpture, now laid out in the kitchen and the garden of the London home of Jill Pearson, a former features writer on the Times, who, as William Redgrave's girlfriend in Chelsea in the s, watched him create the work.
Because no artist intentionally created them as such, the fire-damaged fragments of sculpture would probably not be counted as an art work by those that do the counting, but the way some of the scorched bronze heads have been altered does evoke nightmares of people trapped in bombed, burning buildings.
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