Sharks! Why are five man-eaters being unleashed into a popular canal?

Sharks! Why are five man-eaters being unleashed into a popular canal?August 19, 2020

They’ll blow bubbles, sing songs and deliver lectures about urbanism. Our writer goes behind the scenes at architecture’s Antepavilion prize – and finds out why this year’s winning entry has bite

‘We don’t do planning,” says Russell Gray, “or regulations, or any of that bollocks.” The property developer is standing in his canal-side warehouse in Hackney, London, next to a gigantic model of a prehistoric shark with blood stains smeared around its gaping mouth. “We’re about liberating the arts and architecture from institutional control.”

This week, Gray is launching a shiver of sharks into Regent’s Canal: five polystyrene and fibreglass beasts equipped with smoke machines, laser beams and speakers. Some will even blow bubbles out of their mouths. Over the coming weeks, the sharks will sing songs and give lectures to each other on the subject of architecture and urbanism. This is the latest iteration of the Antepavilion, an annual commission organised by Gray’s company, Shiva, in collaboration with the Architecture Foundation. That’s if the council doesn’t confiscate the fearsome creatures first.

Gray has a long record of baiting the authorities. He once parked a tank on a site in Southwark over a feud with the council. Its gun is still pointing at the planners’ offices. More recently, he has locked horns with Hackney council over structures erected on the roof of Hoxton Docks, a complex of artists’ studios and spaces in a jumble of old wharf buildings that he bought in the late 1980s. “The planners say it’s all ‘incongruous’,” he tells me, referring to the menagerie of structures his rooftop has acquired over the years. “Who are they to depreciate our interventions with that term?”

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