Ruth Beale

Helva XH-834

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Year 2024
Medium Graphite, coloured pencil, gouache, and watercolour on acid-free card
Dimensions 21.1 x 29.8 cm

About the work

Helva XH-834 is a portrait of Canada Water Library as a spaceship. The library was designed by CZWG architects and opened in 2011 as a flagship library for Southwark Council and its regeneration of Rotherhithe former dock areas. I am interested in the use of libraries as civic icons – public buildings symbolising community and learning, also instrumentalised to attract private investment and development.
In sci-fi films, libraries can appear as huge repositories, sites of contention, or places of refuge. Space travel is a key theme in the genre, sometimes libertory, often colonial. The name Helva XH-834 is a reference to the cyborg character in Anne McCaffrey’s 1969 novella The Ship Who Sang. Though McCaffrey’s writing is at times problematic in her depiction of disability and female sexuality, it is thought-provoking, and I find the “brainship” character Helva XH-834 – part human, part spaceship – a fascinating concept.

Career Highlights

Recent Commissions:
Care & Magic, Up Projects, Edgware Library, London (2023-24); The Hundred Club, TACO!, Thamesmead, London (2021-ongoing); Library as Memorial, Brent Biennial, London (2020-21)

Recent exhibitions: In the Open, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, WUK, Vienna; Economics the Blockbuster: It’s not Business as Usual, The Whitworth, Manchester (with Amy Feneck at The Alternative School of Economics); LIKE GODS, Swiss Cottage Library Gallery, London; Editorial Tables, Reciprocal Hospitalities, The Showroom, London; Squidgy World, Turf Projects, London (2023).

Recent publications: All the Libraries in London: Reader, with Simon Elvins, London (2023)
Drawing Risky Play, with Turf Projects, London (2023)

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