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‘Here,” said Robert Wilson, making his way through an underground labyrinth of caverns, arches and alcoves, “I want a pile of yellow sulphur.” In the darkness, people around him took careful note. “And here,” continued the American guru of the avant garde nonchalantly, “I want hundreds of golden arrows flying through the air, suspended in mid-flight . . .”
The year was 1995, and the setting was the cavernous Clink Street Vaults on London’s Bankside. I had gone behind the scenes, and was getting my first glimpse into the shadowy workings of an art production outfit known as Artangel. Although the company had been in existence for a few years, its ambitious new commission – HG, a vast installation by the legendarily demanding Wilson, based extremely loosely on The Time Machine by HG Wells – was on an altogether more monumental scale.
Following Wilson, the Artangel crew (producers Michael Morris and James Lingwood, plus an army of support staff) were unblinkingly jotting down even the most outlandish request. They then spent the ensuing months transforming this subterranean expanse into an immersive dreamscape of dripping lightbulbs, glittering sphinxes, mummified corpses and ruined temples…
For the past 20 years, Artangel has been playing a crucial, if backroom, role – as curator, facilitator, fundraiser, administrator, babysitter and celestial guardian – to some of Britain and the world’s most radical, daring and provocative artists. Even before HG, the company had already made a splash in 1993, as the unseen hand behind Rachel Whiteread’s House, a concrete cast of the insides of an entire terraced house in London.