Helen Nodding, AKA Stories from Space, is an architect for forgotten spaces. She fills cracks in the walls with villages, builds fencing around weeds and paints graffiti with moss. She also spent several years with rogue 'anarchitects' Space Hijackers in London, before moving to Melbourne to explore further options in fake real estate.
Tell us a bit about the Nature Reserves. What was the process of creating them? Have they got anything to do with the shitty economy and house prices, or is that just convenient?
I love watching insects go about their daily business and I’ve always wanted to get involved in their lives in some way, despite the fact that they persistently ignore/bite me. When I was little I used to make miniature gardens inside boxes or tupperware dishes and collect as many ladybirds as I could to live inside them.
Myrmidon House, Stepney Way, Whitechapel, E1
I think the Nature Reserves are an extension of that and I am just trying to entice the insects with increasingly tempting abodes - trouble is that they’re better at building their own. So no, it’s got nothing to do with the current economic crisis, but I like that you’ve made that connection – it makes me seem like I have an actual concept!
Hideaway, Mint, Upper Street, Islington
Which of your projects so far has been you favourite?
The project that I probably feel most nostalgic about is the first miniature world in a brick wall I did (Hideaway). Mainly because I had so much fun making it and it opened up a new array of possibilities for me.
How'd you come upon the Moss Graffiti idea?
The Moss Graffiti idea stemmed from the fact that I had an extremely boring job in a museum for two years telling people where the toilets were and asking them not to touch the objects. I would entertain myself by going out for little walks at lunchtime to stare at the ground looking for inspiration. One day I came across some incredibly beautiful emerald green moss growing around the base of a traffic bollard and I wondered how it had got there. I went back to work and spent a productive afternoon googling “how moss grows” and came across a lot of gardener’s websites that had incredible recipes for a moss milkshake that enabled you to grow moss on walls. I thought, 'wow, I wonder if you could paint your own designs…'
To be honest I’ve had very little real success with the project as growing moss is very dependent on selecting the right type of moss in the right types of conditions; thankfully more green-fingered types seem to have taken up the mantle and I have seen some incredible moss artwork on the internet.
Weed Enclosure, Plumbers Row, Whitechapel, E1
A lot of your work involves walls and concrete - what's the appeal?
I love brick walls and concrete, especially when they start to crumble and nature takes over by sprouting out of all the cracks and crevices. I could entertain myself for ages looking at these tiny microcosms that are everywhere in the city.
I’m reading a really good book at the moment called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, and it describes what might happen if humans disappeared and nature started reclaiming the urban landscape. It’s an incredible visual image to imagine the skyscrapers of London or New York crumbling away into forestland again.
You were involved with Space Hijackers. Tell us about that. What did you think about their recent hijinks at G20 (where they dressed as riot police and drove up in a tank to offer the police assistance)?
I am proud to say that I was there at the “birth” of Space Hijackers as I was studying with Robin (their founding member) at the time he announced his intent to form a band of merry trouble-makers set on reclaiming their rightful public space. In fact I liked the idea so much I went out with him for seven years.
Space Hijackers at G20
I couldn’t believe it when I heard about their latest action at the G20. I nearly wet myself laughing (after I found out they’d all safely got out of jail, of course!). I’m sure they’ll all be dining out on that for years to come. Very brave move to get hold of a tank, pose as riot police and invade the protest…
Samples from the Ideas Factory
What're you doing in Australia?
A random chain of events led me here including a conversation with a stranger on a flight back from Mexico and a hung-over New Year’s Day chat with my best friend from school. I wanted to move to Paris and she fancied New Zealand. I’d heard that Melbourne had a great graffiti art scene so we settled on that.
What're you working on right now?
I’m currently working on a version of ‘Pandora’s Box’ that I’m planning to install in a cool little recess in a wall that my flat mate, Maggie, found for me. Also worth noting is that Robin from the Spacehijackers will be giving a walk and talk at London’s Barbican Centre about the Operation: Ivy League project that the hijackers helped me out with last year. Talks will be on 25 and 26 July as part of a program of events in conjunction with the Barbican’s upcoming exhibition: Radical Nature.
See more of Helen's work at www.storiesfromspace.co.uk