Butterfly was a process-based sculpture. Richard Wilson had acquired an object, which he crushed beyond recognition, delivering it to the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station in February as a lump of condensed metal. Working with a team of twenty apprentices on site, six hours each day, Wilson attempted to recover the form he had deliberately scrapped. He used the architecture of the Boiler House as anchor points, attached steel cables to the metal form and applied tensile pressure using hand operated pulling machines to begin the delicate process of recovery, later inserting hydraulic rams to advance the work.
Butterfly was centred on a sense of unfolding revelation and the desire to recover a wilfully lost form, revealed, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. A time-lapse film of the object unfolding recorded the process. Ultimately, the crumpled, imperfect form reached a point as close to the original shape as Wilson and his apprentices could manage by hand.
In the last weeks of the exhibition, despite the attention lavished upon it, the object appeared as a spent husk, captured in a spider’s web of cables – its unnatural lifecycle shown on the film incorporated into the work. Recovered, it was a form without function, yet preserved in all its splendour, like a collector’s specimen