Georgina Grantham

"London Clay"

Section MS6, Gabriella Demczuk

Keywords: water, nature, book, photography, environment

This tunnel book is sculpted not from the traditional medium of paper but hewn from the very bedrock that underlies London’s existence- Clay. The series of meticulously crafted slabs unfolds a little-known narrative, chronicling the city’s history of clay activities and delving into the interconnected tales of tunnelling, sewer systems, poverty, and catastrophic floods. Beginning with the Potteries and Piggeries slum in Notting Hill, the first slab exposes the unsanitary repercussions of clay extraction. Snaking through Joseph Bazalgette’s sewer systems and the 1928 Thames flood, it confronts the human toil and subsequent flood control measures, culminating in the present-day Super Sewer project led by the very same Bazalgette Limited.

The finale, featuring RSPB Rainham- the site of the Super Sewer’s deposited clay- questions the true essence of progress- shifting clay’s purpose from human infrastructure to an ecological haven. Yet, amidst this ecological gesture lies the question of greenwashing and an uncertain future for London. In exhibition, the excavated clay from the tunnel book will lie in a heap beside it, sparking a dialogue between the discarded and reimagined. The residue of progress laid bare embodies a duality, whereby we are presented with not only the human narrative but also the raw, unembellished essence of the material, silently embodying the city’s foundational history.