Tuesday, 4 March 2008

HD in the 12th Century BC

Whilst crawling across the floor in the void that lay above a 15th century ceiling, disturbing dust that had lain dormant for many a long year, that might possibly have lime in it and being conscious of not wearing a mask, I found myself reflecting on the nature of being an artist in this digital age.

What I was looking for was a one and a half inch hole through which I might suspend a projector over the floor below. Whilst in the chapel I’d noticed that above us there were many curves in the ceiling. Initially I’d been looking for points to attach holding points to. I’d already been told that I wasn’t allowed to either place my light proof tent in the space, nor attach anything to anywhere in the cathedral. This is the usual conundrum that confronts us: ‘you may not place your work here, no, not anywhere, not anything doing’ apart from that, all else is possible. But then of course we have to get creative and solve the problem. This is a factor shared with all technicians and their practice too. It’s what keeps them going and interested – the solving of problems.

But as a 21st century artist who’s had an idea for an artwork I find myself joking with friends that the idea is a minor part of the exercise, the accomplishing of the exhibition of that idea is what takes up 90 per cent of one’s attention after the fact of making the piece.

So, in the now dusty atmosphere I peered through the hole in the ceiling and saw the person I had left below standing peering up at me. I dangled a cable through the hole and miraculously it was large enough to allow the big connector on the end to go through. Before, on dangling a tape measure through the hole we established that the floor below lay 22 feet beneath and that the ceiling lay 2 feet beneath where I was standing, being two feet thick. Three of us eventually stood on that spot, therefore establishing that the ceiling could take probably twice that weight – or even more, after all, it didn’t collapse, so a projector’s weight should be ok.

I started to think about how I might suspend a projector through this hole. A tropid maybe, dangling two cables so that the projector neither spin around nor took on a swinging pendulum movement ? But then that would not spread the load. It was suggested then that we make a metal square made of thick rod about 30 inches in width to be the base, then simply put a winch over that about 12 inches higher up but attached to the square – one of the biggest problems with the tent was the weight of lifting the projector and cage – so a winch would allow us to load up the projector, speakers, mains, connectors etc on the ground and on a signal to those above, simply have it winched it up into position.

On being at home I realised that I needed to commission the making of the base plate and winch. Who to ring? Perhaps a company in a nearby city that would charge according to the perceived complexity of the solution might be the answer – Then I started thinking: who would have the appropriate technology ? Perhaps the nearby blacksmith’s forge?

I drove down to the forge and talked to the men there, men that could have been doing what they were now doing, since quite soon after the invention of the manipulation of iron. They looked at the drawings, suggested some improvements and they’re now working on the unit.

When I first came to the part of Somerset I now live in, I happened to be in a café with my five year old, Phoebe. She went up to an old man who sat drinking a cup of and asked him his name. He replied that he was called Nathaniel. He asked her what her name might be and where she lived, she told him. He then told her that his great-great grandfather had visited the forge in my village and that the blacksmith had told him of his great-great grandfathers involvement in the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

In our combined living memory we had established a link from 300 or more years ago. The forge in my village will now solve my current digital problems - So there in that void I had found myself within the echo of the 15th century, imagining a 21st century work with a problem that had a solution from the 12th century BC.