I’ve slid down an art installation before thanks to Carsten Höller, and I’ve frolicked about in a room full of balloons thanks to Martin Creed, but never before had I literally swum in art until this morning. Bright and early, there I was shivering in art, thanks to a bathing pond art installation in a building site in London’s King’s Cross. The piece, formally known as Of Soil and Water: the King’s Cross Pond Club , was created by Ooze Architects (Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg) and artist Marjetica Potrč, and takes the form of a natural, chemical-free pool, complete with plants and bushes. And who knows what else – I didn’t dare think what one day could be lurking in there after the maggoty old python Hampstead Heath ponds story of a few years back.
Maggots and snakes aside though, this really is a brilliant idea that takes the idea of “immersive” art to its cold, but very logical conclusion. The aim of the project is that viewers of the piece can participate fully in the work, taking a dip in the 10mx40m pool, which will be in place for up to two years. It’s fair to say it’s probably not one for the squeamish. First off, it’s bloody cold: I did a very unprofessional amount of swearing throughout my brave two laps of the pool, and a less-than-glamourous doggy paddle in an attempt to warm up (I can swim properly, promise, but only when I can feel all my extremities.)
As Eva puts it, the pond is cleaned by “a natural closed-loop process, using wetland and submerged water plants to filter and sustain clean and clear water.” Those used to the chlorinated confines of London Fields Lido, or the crystal clear rapids of Center Parcs may be in for a surprise. I overheard one man getting changed saying the pond is “ten degrees colder” than London Fields Lido – whether that was bravado talking or the truth I’m not sure, but it’s very much believable.
Aside from a great tool for waking the hell up sharpish or a delightful bathing spot in the summer, the project looks to become “a living laboratory to test balance and to question a self-sustaining system including one natural cycle – water, land and the human body," according to Eva. “The aim is communication with visitors, describing the balance of man with nature, and the balance of living in a sustainable city.” The nature though is very much man-made – you look around, and you’re surrounded by loud cranes, rubble and high-vis jackets. It’s pretty hard to escape the fact you’re on a building site, except when you focus on how numb your feet are, or the fact it feels like your nipples are about to fall off.
Nervously shivering in a very on-brand red King’s Cross towel before taking the plunge, I told a fellow swimmer how nervous I was. “It’s about that initial ‘whoosh’ though,” she told me – that rush of adrenaline and the nervous, joyful screams and laughs that accompany the shock and elation of plunging into a body of open air water that can’t be beaten.
She’s absolutely right. To whinge about the cold is to hugely miss the point. The pond is a truly fantastic idea, one that myself and most people I know thought was nothing but a pipe dream (one filtered naturally, with plants of course), one of those daft things you read about in a Time Out list, share on Facebook with the women you swim with in Hampstead sometimes and swiftly forget about. But it’s not: it’s here, it’s real, and it’s joyful. I’ll be back, with the aforementioned women, and I can’t bloody wait.
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