He didn’t make it to Antarctica: pandemic got in the way. But in 2025 Joel Levack will walk on the snow-covered peak that shares his name. 

His £100,000 plan to get to Mount Levack involves charcoal, a suite of rented artist studios and a broken piano.

He originally conceived the idea for the expedition after his 30th birthday, which was crashed by Amy Winehouse. He wanted to do something challenging for his 40th; and change his lifestyle by drinking less and getting fit.

In 2011, he discovered Mount Levack in a random Google search of his name, decided to visit – and after some years thinking about it he decided to raise funds for the trip by selling Mount Levack-related art.

“I was all very excited about climbing it, no matter where it was – I think I told a few people it was Alaska – which would have been much easier, and cheaper to get to.”

The logistics are horrendous and explain the, er, mountainous funding target.   

Some of his Mount Levack work was shown before the pandemic, some more recently: at Chris Dyson Architects, the adjoining cafe Pangea, and at the Union Club Studio Space. Since then, Joel’s continued to produce new works, while also putting on shows for other artists and finding unwanted office spaces for them to use as studios. 

At one of the buildings previously used by the Changing Rooms gallery, there was a baby grand piano in the disabled toilet. It had been donated to the building’s owner, and after a few years the owner died. The piano was not playable any more, prohibitively heavy, and nobody wanted it. 

Joel offered to take it, he told me before the show, in an interview over Zoom. “I have a fairly hefty trolly and due to training for mountaineering I’m pretty strong. But I still had to break it in to several parts to get it out.”

Not long beforehand, Joel had taken delivery of a legendary piece of timber – the countertop at the bar of The Union Club, Soho – chopped it into many pieces, and turned each shape into an artwork. It turned out to be quite a hit. Could he do something similar with the piano?

This year, he started working on it. One of the studios above the Changing Rooms gallery became available after the artist renting it moved out. “I’ve donated the studio to myself.”

A restless interviewee, Joel carried his iPhone round the building while he talked, then additionally logged in with his iPad, so that briefly there were two Joels. Somehow, this seemed symbolic of his general busy-ness. “You know what I’m like.”

Phase 2 is curated by Changing Rooms co-owner Georgie McGivern. At the time of writing, the piano is already in 15 pieces. “It’s beautiful. I want to say mahogany, but it’s not. It’s old, anyway.”

As well as sculptural work from the butchered baby grand, there are mixed media pieces and charcoal drawings. Georgie wondered if Joel might include a performance piece, chopping up piano as part of the show. “It’s quite a strange process,” says Joel, “because you get to see the anatomy of the piano.”

Another key element in Phase 2 is Joel’s collaboration with Chloe Knibbs. She recorded sounds of the piano’s inner workings, and used them to arrange a new piece of music for the show.

Chloe and Joel have collaborated before. “She wrote a lovely cello piece for when I was working on Route One. I played it in my studio while I was drawing long charcoal mountainscapes. I like speed-drawing, and tried to complete them in the time it took to listen to the cello piece – about four minutes.”