Writing's on the wall - all 40,000 words

PUBLISHED: 07:41 24 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:05 22 October 2010


From the nearby footbridge over the River Wensum, artist Rory Macbeth can be seen on a cherry-picker painting what looks like a delicate mosaic on a giant wall.

From the nearby footbridge over the River Wensum, artist Rory Macbeth can be seen on a cherry-picker painting what looks like a delicate mosaic on a giant wall.

On closer inspection, the curious will find that what he is really daubing on the former electricity company building in Norwich is the entire text of Thomas More's Utopia, one of the great intellectual works of literary history and 100 pages long.

Hours were spent examining the text and the building and tapping away on a calculator before the London-based artist decided precisely how to paint the 40,000 words on the walls of the building, using traditional lime whitewash.

As a result, those wishing to crane their necks skywards and read snatches of More's great work will have to walk around the entire building, just off Duke Street, to get to the end of each line.

Assisted by students from the Norwich School of Art and Design, Rory estimates he will need to paint one line every 90 minutes during daylight hours if he is to finish in time for the opening of the EASTinternational contemporary art exhibition on Saturday, July 8.

He is one of 25 artists selected by Turner prize-winning artists of 2004, Jeremy Deller and Belgian curator Dirk Snauwaert, for this year's exhibition.

The building, next to a car park, has been lent to Rory by property development firm Targetflow and is due to be knocked down next year.

"There was recently a rather serious difference of opinion", the book, published in 1516, clearly begins on the highest part of the wall. Despite his self-confessed fear of heights, Rory completed the first section of the wall containing the start of each line himself, and in the bright sunshine yesterday, he and his assistants had painstakingly covered half of the second section.

"I am absolutely petrified of heights," says Rory. "It is only that I said that I would do it that I am. You can see how juddery the writing is at the top, but I am getting used to it."

Engaging public art is Rory Macbeth's stock in trade. He has spray-painted burnt-out cars and recently transcribed all the words in the Bible in alphabetical order in an unmarked document which will also feature in the Norwich show.

Many of his pieces have a Utopian theme, he says, and this led him to read several philosophical tomes, including that by Thomas More who introduced the word which is Greek for 'no place'.

When he finally got to fulfil his long-held idea to cover a building with the text of an entire book, he set about trying to find a site that would somehow fit with the language itself.

"This place has a sense of an industrial past and now it is going to be demolished to make way for a new development," he explained. "It would have fed electricity to people in Norfolk and would be been advertised as giving warmth, power and comfort for the people, and the new properties will be advertised in the same way."

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press