Historical Devices

Historical Devices

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Inspired by Clause 39 of the Magna Carta, 2007 Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger’s (b. 1959) recently opened public artwork Writ in Water at Runnymede, Surrey, reflects upon notions of justice and democracy, indirectly asking timely questions about the current socio-political landscape.

The piece is created in collaboration with Studio Octopi and commissioned as part of the National Trust’s contemporary art programme, Trust New Art, which is inspired by the conservation organisation’s diverse spaces. Built in cubits, the most ancient unit of measure, and using stone from the original site, the monumental circular structure reactivates the historic location, which witnessed the sealing of the Magna Carta over 800 years ago.

 Writ in Water (interior 1). Credit National Trust Images, Andrew Butler

Engaging with time-honoured textual sources – the title is taken from the inscription of Romantic poet John Keats’ (1975-1821) gravestone – the large scale architectural installation reinvents the ancient words for the 21st century by translating them into minimal forms. Reflecting on the nature of written text, the artist notes: “In Writ in Water, the use of reflection to make the text legible plays against the idea of a law written in stone… Whether the words are ephemeral or everlasting is up to us.”

Offering a space for contemplation through a combination of water, sky and light, the work acts as a contemporary sanctuary, seamless interweaving history, nature and contemporary architecture. Visually reminiscent of James Turrell’s (b. 1943) Roden Crater, Writ in Water offers a comparably strong connection to the land, its narratives and the wider environment.

As John Orna-Ornstein, National Trust’s Director of Culture and Engagement, says: “Wallinger has emphasised the continuing relevance of Magna Carta within a wider historical narrative, in a way that will enhance this special place for years to come.”

The piece is open seven days a week. Find out more here.

1. Writ in Water. Credit National Trust Images, Andrew Butler