In 2004 Somerset House was only beginning to be widely known to the public as a visitor attraction in the form of The Courtauld Gallery, Gilbert Collection and newly installed courtyard fountains. Otherwise it was still home to the Inland Revenue. It seemed to me the two sides were in a battle over the memory of the building as well as its future.
The tour took place in the ‘Dead House’ – a mysterious subterranean passageway where tombstones line the walls. Using found objects, photos, text and video I told some stories. The first video was about Catholic martyrs from the Reformation connected to the palace that once stood on the site. The next was a travelogue about the man who wound up the clocks in the Inland Revenue, from tiny carriage clocks to the clock tower bell. He was the maintenance man of time - a time that was becoming obsolete. The third film documented employees of the Inland Revenue talking about alleged ghost sightings and known hotspots for the supernatural.
The final film was shot in a wide range of locations around the building and showed my daughter, then ten years old, reading The Story of Somerset House aloud from a large fairy tale book. It told a tale of personal history and the history of objects and time, about change and the selection of the past and the commodification of memory.
'The story of the house, the people and the pictures was written in a book and that is the book I am reading from. One day some people listened to someone reading that book aloud and that is the story you are now living.'
- extract from aide-memoire text
Somerset House, London, 2004