an architectural artwork by mark wallinger and studio octopi has opened at runnymede in the english county of surrey. more than 800 years ago, the meadow of runnymede served as the location where feudal barons forced king john to seal the magna carta — a founding moment in shaping the basis of common law across the world. titled ‘writ in water’, the installation celebrates the enduring significance of the charter, and has been designed to offer an immersive environment for contemplation and reflection.
all images © national trust images/andrew butler
commissioned by the national trust in association with arts producers situations, the project is by artist mark wallinger in collaboration with architecture firm studio octopi. in developing the concept, wallinger drew inspiration from clause 39 of the magna carta, which states that: ‘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’.
the project has been installed at runnymede in the english county of surrey
flanked by the river thames on one side and an ox-bow lake on the other, a circular structure has been built using rammed stone directly from the site. the installation takes its name from the inscription on poet john keats’ gravestone, which reads, ‘here lies one whose name was writ in water’. an exterior doorway leads to a simple circular labyrinth, in which the visitor can choose to turn left or right to reach an inner doorway that opens out into a central chamber. here, the sky looms through a wide oculus above a pool of water, as reflective as a still font.
the text is made visible by the water’s reflection
the sides of the pool are inscribed on the inner side, with the water reflecting the reversed and inverted lettering of clause 39 as the visitor moves around the pool. ‘in writ in water, the use of reflection to make the text legible plays against the idea of a law written in stone,’ explains mark wallinger. ‘magna carta curtailed this divine right and issued the first secular writ.’
the artist was inspired by clause 39 of the magna carta
‘keats though despairing of his legacy was to become one of the immortals and his words live anew when learnt and repeated by every succeeding generation,’ wallinger continues. ‘similarly, although magna carta established the law and the nascent principles of human rights, the united kingdom has no written constitution. what seems like a birthright has to be learned over and over and made sense of. whether the words are ephemeral or everlasting is up to us.’
the circular structure has been built using rammed stone directly from the site
the structure has been built in cubits, an ancient unit of measure
‘writ in water’ is open seven days a week at runnymede and is free to enter
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