British Museum blog

Documenting the Museum’s changing landscape

Liam O’Connor, artist

'WCEC Excavation' 2012 © Liam O'Connor

‘WCEC Excavation’ 2012 © Liam O’Connor

The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, view from Senate House

The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, view from Senate House

Over the past four years I have been making work in response to a building site at the British Museum that has now become the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre.

I see the building site as an island within the city, a territory relinquished in one form waiting to be claimed in/by another.

I have been privileged to explore this transforming landscape and have attempted to describe it, or allow it to describe itself, through the objects and drawings I have made. The work explores the process of imposing order on the landscape and its objects, the end point of which is the completed structure of the building.

Over the course of three and a half years I worked on a single drawing of the site. From a fixed vantage point above the site, I observed the entire transformation of the space from demolition through to excavation and construction. In a weekly ritual I returned to this same view and added to the drawing as new forms emerged on site. Over time this developed into a memoir to the building process. The Museum documented the stages of this drawing through a series of photographs.

For me the most compelling part of the building process was the excavation, which saw the entire site cleared to four stories below street level. I have always been drawn to these huge spaces which temporarily open up in London, into which new buildings are to be placed. They are architectural events in themselves, for a brief moment a huge expanse appears within the densely packed London streets. In response to the epic excavation I made two pieces of work, the first of which was this large, three meter wide drawing, in an attempt to capture the cinematic quality of the spectacle.

Click on any of the thumbnails to view as a full screen slideshow.
All images © Liam O’Connor

The second piece came out of a body of work I had been making on site, for which I collected marks left on surfaces through rubbings, prints and photograms; collecting moments I saw as drawings. The site is continually producing images of itself; dirt, mud, clay and rust are dragged across its surfaces or are themselves surfaces onto which marks can be made. After watching thousands of lorries leave the site filled with clay, I wanted to join the clay on its journey, so I asked if I could sit in one of the lorries to see where it went. I also asked if I could place some boards in the back of the lorry, on which clay could be placed on top to create a drawing which could be reclaimed at the end of the journey, at the rubbish tip. The builders were happy to facilitate my experiments with, as they always were throughout the project. I had been exploring ways of using the materials, processes and tools on site to make drawings, and I saw this piece as a successful outcome of that process as it was made by a telescopic digger, a lorry and a bulldozer.

Click on any of the thumbnails to view as a full screen slideshow.
All images © Liam O’Connor

The final piece of work I made was a modern medal. Philip Attwood, Keeper of the Department of Coins & Medals, introduced me to the Museum’s modern medal collection, and, impressed by these objects, I wanted to make something in response. I was interested in the repetitious activities on the site, such as the picking up and putting down of clay or the construction of steel cages to reinforce the concrete, as the same process seemed to result in a slightly different outcome each time, a unique result. I had also been working a lot with objects taken from the site rather than making my own. With these two ideas in mind, Willie Shaw of Mace, the main contractor, donated a crane lifting chain, and PAD contractors separated the chain into its 800 individual links and stamped each one with a commemorative mark I had designed.

Once the building is complete all these medals will be displayed temporarily and each of the people who have worked on the project will choose a medal from this display, so the piece of work will disperse among everyone who has contributed to the building project.

Every Saturday in June a display of the work I have made will be open to the public. The works have all been tailor-made for the museum cabinets in this secret gallery usually closed off from public view. This room has always been important to me; on one side is the building site and on the other the Museum, for me it became a studio space where the influence of both cultures began to emerge within the work that I made.


See a selection of Liam’s work on display in the WCEC Model room, located off Room 66 on Level 3 of the Museum.
To find out more about Liam O’Connor’s work, visit liamoconnor.co.uk

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The Big Draw: why drawing matters


Hilary Williams, Art History Education Officer, British Museum

The act of drawing makes someone really look. Drawing heightens curiosity, one of the concepts on which the Museum was founded way back in 1753 when it aimed to attract the “interested and curious”. While drawing, you are almost asking yourself, how was this made, how did that craftsman or artist form this object, mould it, carve it, colour it and use it?

Drawing objects is part of a journey. A journey asking these questions but also discovering something about yourself, as you look, perceive, question and discover. As Picasso said so eloquently, “I do not seek, I find”.

The Big Draw will take place at the British Museum on Saturday 8 October 2011 and encourages participants to spend 20 to 30 minutes or more really looking at objects through drawing them.

This is our twelfth Big Draw and we’ve taken the theme from the forthcoming exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. That theme is the Teddy Bears Picnic and is inspired by Grayson’s use of Alan Measles, his teddy bear and god of his world of creativity, and should appeal to families or children of all ages, from three to 93… Teddies will be posed with the British Museum objects which have inspired Grayson in his choice of objects included in his new exhibition.

Why do I think the Big Draw is important? Drawing can be part of the creative exercise, creating another world for thoughts, dreams, objects or whatever. Drawing can also communicate that creativity. It can be a means of showing your imagination to someone else; what a sublime experience!

Grayson Perry is a marvellous example of this. He uses drawing to create imaginary worlds and a new context for thoughts or, in the exhibition at the British Museum, for objects. We are incredibly lucky that Grayson is coming to discuss why and how he draws, on Big Draw day, at 14.00.

To see the Big Draw in action is inspiring and a real thrill. It’s great to see people of all ages and backgrounds, drawing together, literally and metaphorically, across generations and cultures, without language being a barrier. Everyone can draw!

Come on a journey to draw and find curious new worlds, in front of your eyes and in your imagination!

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

The Big Draw: the teddy bears’ picnic takes place at the British Museum on Saturday 8 October, 11.00–16.00. The full programme is available online. Children and teddy bears must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
is supported by AlixPartners, with Louis Vuitton.
Book tickets now

Filed under: Exhibitions, Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, , , ,

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