Water story

Harry Pearce created a typographic installation presenting visitors to Kew Bridge in London with a poem.

It is the story of the falling rain
To turn into a leaf and fall again

These words, from the poem The Self-playing Instrument of Water by Alice Oswald, have been inscribed on a steel typographic path along the Kew Bridge over the River Thames in London, linking the Kew Bridge Steam Museum and the Musical Museum. The typographic path is part of a large-scale typographic installation by Harry Pearce recognising the historical significance of the Kew Bridge Area. 

Almost two centuries after the area was first developed as an important waterworks hub, it has been given a makeover by various artists, curators and cultural partners commissioned by Future City to pay homage to the historical significance of the area while injecting it with new life. 

Pearce inscribed Oswald's poem on a 160-metre steel typographic path linking the Steam Museum and Musical Museum. "Installed on the site of the old filtration beds, the intention of the installation was to inspire visitors to read the words of the poem by following the path. Eighty metres has been laid so far and the remaining sections will be installed when the buildings on the site are complete," says Pentagram. 

"The project uses a lost typeface brought back to life to tell the tale of water", says Pearce of the Double Pica Antique typeface that was customised for the project. Pentagram found what is considered to be the first-ever slab serif typeface in the St. Brides Type Museum and Library, which was created around the same time that the pumping station at Kew Bridge came into being. Pearce and his creative then took this typeface and turned it into an alpahbet again. 

Working closely with Oswald and fabrication specialists Millimetre, Pearce produced a stencil that was cut into a sheet of steel. The words were then sprayed on with molten copper in order to bind the steel and copper together. As reference to the age of the development, Pearce sprayed salt water and stallion urine onto the copper to accelerate the natural process of weathering brought on by rain. 

Here's Oswald's complete poem: 

It is the story of the falling rain
To turn into a leaf and fall again
It is the secret of a summer shower
To steal the light and hide it in a flower
And every flower a tiny tributary
That from the ground flows pale and momentary
Is one of the water’s wishes and this tale
Hangs in a seed head smaller than my thumbnail
If only I a passerby could pass
As clear as water through a plume of grass
To find the sunlight hidden at the tip
Turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip
Then I might know like water how to balance
The weight of hope against the light of patience
Water which is so raw so earthly-strong
And lurks in cast iron tanks and leaks along
Drawn under gravity towards my tongue
To cool and fill the pipe-work of this song
Which is the story of the falling rain
That rises to the light and falls again

The Self-playing Instrument of Water by Alice Oswald.

Watch the Talk with Harry Pearce