Writ in Water at Runnymede

Writ in Water, a major architectural artwork by Mark Wallinger in collaboration with Studio Octopi, at Runnymede, Surrey

Writ in Water, a major architectural artwork by Mark Wallinger, in collaboration with Studio Octopi, provides a new immersive space for contemplation and reflection at Runnymede, Surrey. Writ in Water is open seven days a week from Saturday 16 June 2018 and is free to enter.

Over 800 years ago, Runnymede witnessed the feudal barons forcing King John to seal Magna Carta - a founding moment in shaping the basis of common law across the world. 

Writ in Water, commissioned by the National Trust in association with arts producers Situations, celebrates the enduring significance of Magna Carta. 

Set in the heart of this ancient landscape, Writ in Water reflects upon the founding principles of democracy, and through a meeting of water, sky and light, provides visitors with a space for reflection and contemplation.

Mark Wallinger has drawn inspiration from Clause 39 of Magna Carta and the fundamental principles of justice it embodies.

Video

By Jared Schiller

See behind-the-scenes as Writ in Water was made in this 2 minute film, produced and directed by Jared Schiller.

" 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."
- Clause 39, Magna Carta

The large-scale circular building emerges from the hillside at the base of Cooper’s Hill. The meadow it sits within is flanked by the River Thames on one side and an ox-bow lake on the other, itself a trace of the river’s earlier course.

Responding to this feature of the landscape, Writ in Water takes its name from the inscription on John Keats’ gravestone, which reads, ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’.

Built in cubits, the most ancient unit of measure, and using rammed stone from the site itself, Writ in Water sits at the heart of this ancient land. 

The sky looms through a wide oculus above a pool of water.
The interior of Writ in Water, a major architectural artwork by Mark Wallinger, at Runnymede, Surrey
The sky looms through a wide oculus above a pool of 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 sides of the pool are inscribed on the inner side, the water reflecting (much like the seal on Magna Carta itself), the reversed and inverted lettering of Clause 39 as the visitor moves round the pool to reveal its words. 

" In Writ in Water, the use of reflection to make the text legible plays against the idea of a law written in stone. Magna Carta curtailed this divine right and issued the first secular writ. "
- Mark Wallinger, Artist

Mark Wallinger comments: 

'In Writ in Water, the use of reflection to make the text legible plays against the idea of a law written in stone. Magna Carta curtailed this divine right and issued the first secular writ. 

'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. 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 sides of the pool are inscribed. The water reflecting the lettering of Clause 39 of Magna Carta
Detail of the inscription on Writ in Water, a major architectural artwork by Mark Wallinger, at Runnymede, Surrey
The sides of the pool are inscribed. The water reflecting the lettering of Clause 39 of Magna Carta

John Orna-Ornstein, National Trust’s Director of Culture and Engagement said: 

“Mark’s work provides an inspirational space for reflection in this ancient landscape and the final result is everything that we hoped for and more".

"Through Writ in Water, Mark has brought together contemporary culture and a wider historical narrative, in a way that will enhance this special place for years to come".

Mark Wallinger was selected through a competitive process led by Situations, who developed the work with the artist in collaboration with London based architectural practice Studio Octopi.

With thanks

Writ in Water has been made possible with National Lottery funding through Arts Council England and the generous support of Art Fund, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Henry Moore Foundation and Lord and Lady Lupton. With additional support from Iwan and Manuela Wirth, Valeria and Rudolf Maag-Arrigoni and Harris Calnan.

The artwork is situated at the base of Cooper’s Hill at Runnymede
Supported by Arts Council England, Art Fund, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Henry Moore Foundation, Calman Harris, Surrey County Council and Hauser & Wirth
The artwork is situated at the base of Cooper’s Hill at Runnymede

As part of the launch of Writ in Water, we've put on a programme of craft demos, forages and family activities exploring the practical applications of the unique landscape that inspired the artwork. This includes brand new science and sensory maps, aimed at enabling families and children to engage with the artwork through a variety of disciplines. 

Writ in Water family learning maps