What's That Sliced Up Ship In The Thames By The O2?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 32 months ago

Last Updated 13 October 2021

What's That Sliced Up Ship In The Thames By The O2?
slice of reality - a ship cut down the middle - on the muddy banks of the thames
Ship shape... sort of. Image: Matt Brown

Exploring the shoreline around The O2 in North Greenwich, you may come across a ship that's met a something of a strange fate.

The rusting segment of an old sand dredger awkwardly juts out from the inky waters of the Thames (and at low tide, a muddy beach). But what exactly are you looking at — a neglected boat which moored up decades ago? The washed up remains of a shipwreck?

The answer in short: it's art. Slice of Reality was created by sculptor Richard Wilson, as part of celebrations for the opening of the what was the Millenium Dome, back in 2000.

the slice up ship, backdrop by the skyscrapers of canary wharf
The strange sight has been here since 2015. Image: Matt Brown

What you see is the remaining 15% of the 240-foot-long Arco Trent. Wilson cut the rest of the ship away over four months in a shipping yard in the north of England. He describes the artwork as a 'visual soundbite which cries itself back into the river, a lament to the lost shipping industry.'

The idea is that by viewing the living quarters of the ship, you can imagine the rest of its form (although failing that you can just Google 'Arco Trent').

"What little moment can I put that talks of something much greater?" Wilson asked of himself at the time of commission.

Can you visit it?

The artist certainly kept the most interesting part of the ship: Slice of Reality contains the bridge, weather deck, poop deck and accommodation deck (the latter of which has a pool table in at). While the sculpture isn't usually available for the public to explore, it has been on the Open House London programme before, and others are occasionally invited aboard by Wilson. Which brings us to the most interesting thing about this sculpture, as pointed out by Diamond Geezer — it's also one of Wilson's studios.