Front Row: The Rows Commission In Chester

Mirror Front Rowe stills (27).jpg
Still taken from the video installation Front Row

We have now finished making and installing the video installation Front Row within the window space of Booth Mansion on Watergate Street.  We spent last Wednesday setting up the mirrored chamber and blacking out the windows to create a central view into the installation.  The installation will be switched on during the day from 7-10th September and will be shown as part of the Open Heritage week-end.

The film projection has been created from film footage and photographs taken of the Rows which have been edited and layered to create a constantly changing kaleidoscopic view of these spaces.  The film is looped to run continuously throughout the day and the mirrors are set to both reflect the projections and the real-time space of the Rows.

Over the years the Rows have changed and adapted either through accident or by design with each architectural feature reflecting a function, incident or story of the past.  The Rows today are living, working spaces and continue to evolve and develop according to their usage and activity. We have created Front Row in response to the fragmentary and multi layered nature of the Rows and the potential of these unique spaces to adapt and evolve.

Mirror Front Rowe stills (36)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (3)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (20)

Mirror Front Rowe stills (19).jpg


Appropriating Space: The Rows Commission in Chester

Watergate looking East
Looking towards Watergate.  Louise Rayner’s painting below is from a similar view point

Appropriating Space

In July we were appointed by Chester West and Chester and Chester Civic Trust to develop a temporary artwork for a public space along The Rows as part of the Heritage Open Days which runs between 7 – 10th September 2017.

The history of the Chester Rows dates back to over 700 years and are of international  importance containing the UK’s best collection of prestigious town houses from different periods all in one place.   The Rows provide a raised pedestrianized covered route past shops and residential properties offering the visitor a unique elevated view of the city, yet these Rows are often ignored by shoppers or visitors to the historic city.  One of the aims of this project is to encourage more activity and draw people up onto these amazing spaces and reveal some of the hidden stories connected with the Rows.

In developing an idea for this commission we have been undertaking research at Cheshire West Museums and with the assistance of Cheshire Archive and Local Studies team in Chester to unearth stories connected with the Rows.   This research has coincided with a hunt for spaces along the Rows which we could possibly use for the duration of the festival which has taken the ideas in some interesting  directions and occasionally up some blind alleys!

Louise Rayner (1832-1924) Watercolour of Watergate Street, Chester, looking east




Strange Attractor

Strange Attractor

Our installation for the Amy Johnson Festival now has the title ‘Strange Attractor’ and will be made up of the following elements; a magnetic pendulum, a large disk of sand with three magnetic points, three colour changing circles of light.

The magnetic pendulum will swing in an arc across a large disk of white sand onto which three circles of continuously changing coloured light are projected.  These circles will overlap each other to form a central section of white light under which three magnetic centres exert an invisible force.  Below are some of the colour combinations that are created when the colours mix – the greys and neutral colours are particularly compelling.

Colour circles grid 1500

The pendulum cuts a fine pattern in the sand tracing its various journeys towards equilibrium and the calm elliptical spiral at the centre.  The magnets however, exert a strange attraction and bring a degree of uncertainty to the airspace and the exact direction that will be taken.  Occasionally the pendulum completely changes direction and can even become stranded at a magnetic pole.

We have set up a pendulum in order to work out exactly the weight, length, and magnet positions we want to use.  We were curious to see in more detail how the pendulum makes its way towards the centre of the circle.  The images below have been taken in the dark with a small light attached to the end of the pendulum.  These are photographic exposures of about 5 minutes each to show the extraordinarily beautiful paths of movement of the pendulum as it circles towards equilibrium.

The journeys start from the outside where the pattern is forms a series of ordered and slightly shifting ellipses of slowly reducing size.  As the pendulum comes into the influence of the three magnets which are placed at 120 degree intervals around a 600 mm diameter circle, the patterns becomes chaotic, occasionally changing direction of rotation.  The pendulum finally reaches a second state of order as it moves towards the centre away from magnetic influence.  Here the pattern becomes intricate and dense.

Light path 1 1500

Light path 2 1500

Light path 3 1500

Light path 4 1500

Viewers will be invited to swing the pendulum and follow the flight as it passes through borders of colour, sandy terrain and magnetic atmosphere.  As we have been working on this idea we have noticed the parallels and connections with flight and atmosphere. For example the tip of the pendulum actually describes a path of travel that follows the inside surface of a sphere, and the magnets suggest planetary forces.

Strange Attractor is a wonderfully ambiguous term which can refer not just to chaos theory and the ‘butterfly effect’ explored by the mathematician Edward Lorenz ( but also our fascination with light, material and pattern amidst the compelling uncertainty of elemental forces.  Art and science have a natural overlap as they are both functions of our interpretation and understanding of the universe and the world we live in.


Engineering Space

At the moment we are in the process of making a new piece of work for the Da Vinci Engineered exhibition which has been commissioned for the Amy Johnson Festival in Hull, due to open on 2nd July 2016.

This show will feature reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s flight and wind machines loaned by the Da Vinci Museum, Florence, alongside contemporary artists’ works which respond to ideas of flight or use engineering in their conceptualization, design or production.

Over the years we have worked and collaborated with a range of different engineers to develop and realise projects.  Some of these art works have been created for the public realm and so there are often practical issues such as durability and strength which need to be considered alongside the aesthetic and conceptual elements of the work.  How the viewer might experience or interact with the art work is also a big consideration.  These are also similar challenges that an engineer might face.

The process inevitably involves an element of problem solving yet it is these ‘problems’ that help an idea take shape and be refined so that it becomes richer and more connected with the space and context.  An example of this is a recent work called The Reveal – a site specific installation created for Sandpit Hill which overlooks the Thames Estuary, in Hadleigh Country Park, Essex.

The Reveal – commissioned by Essex County Council and Place Services on behalf of RSPB and The Greater Thames Marshes Improvement Area Partnership with support from Arts Council England and Olympic Legacy Interpretation Fund (2015)

For this site we wanted to create an artwork that could capture the amazing view from Sandpit Hill and reveal it in a new and unexpected way.  The idea to install a subterranean camera obscura in the hillside grew out of that research and we used 3 D modelling software to test out different variations of the design.  We calculated the predicted movement of the sun over a year to adapt the design to ensure that the lens would not create hot spots on the back wall and through this process we became aware of the work’s bigger connection with the universe and its position within it.

Plan elevation plotting the movement of the sun on the back wall

Each work we make has its own internal logic, with each element interdependent on the other.  We often use maths and physics to predict how things will look and work and this process inevitably shapes the final outcome.  However we are more interested in creating work which people can experience and respond to on a sensory level rather than through an understanding of the processes and physics involved. The engineering element in the work might be one of challenge and materials ‘questioning’ each other in interesting and perhaps awkward and entropic ways.

Starting points for the Da Vinci Engineered commission

Our starting point for this commission has been to consider the nature of flight, gravity, movement and light in relationship to a surface or landscape (in its broadest sense).  We have thought about how these different elements may interact with each other; how they could reveal or shape a landscape and also how these scenarios might play out on a larger scale.  We are interested in revealing and juxtaposing different dynamic processes to create states of ambiguity.

As part of our research we are working with the Engineering Department at Hull University to find out more about the different kinds of simulators and models they use.  One simulator that has caught our interest is the Total Environment Simulator (TES) run by the Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Hull University based at The Deep.  This experimental facility is designed for modelling environmental fluid and sediment dynamics in a wide range of settings and conditions.

At the moment we are setting up and testing our own models in the studio to determine the final configuration for the artwork and will talk about these more in our next post.

Artists in residence at Portsmouth Cathedral


We are excited to begin our artist residency at Portsmouth Cathedral.  The overarching theme of the Viewpoint Residency this year is ‘faiths connected’ and we are using our time here to look at what this might mean, using the medium of light to explore and investigate. We will be working within the Cathedral space throughout November to develop new work in response to the space and our research.

We are drawn towards using light because of its ambiguous nature;  how it can be simultaneously whole and fragmented.  From a scientific perspective white light is made up of different wavelengths (perceived as colours) and behaves as both a wave and a particle.  This duality leads to ambiguity about its state at a given moment.  

Light can reveal and transform, yet it can also hide and blind.  It is fundamental to life and it is has a symbolic importance within many religions. The nature of light seems to reflect the idea of faiths connected and the ambiguities that can arise from this.

Our residency begins as the days are drawing in and we will be observing and experimenting with different types of light in the space. The residency will culminate in a final piece of work which will be shown towards the end of November.  Details about this will be released soon.

Dates when we will be at the Cathedral are the 3rd, 10th, 12th,  18th, 20th, 27th and 28th November. Come along and say hello and see what we are doing.


Camera Obscura for Hadleigh Country Park, Essex

The Reveal

An underground camera obscura for Hadleigh Country Park, Essex (2015)
Commissioned by Essex County Council and Place Services on behalf of RSPB and The Greater Thames Marshes Nature Improvement Area Partnership (NIA) and with support from Arts Council of England and the Olympic Legacy Interpretation fund

The idea for The Reveal evolved out of a process of research and engagement with the site and through working with local groups and the Park Rangers at Hadleigh Country Park.

On our first visit to Hadleigh, the route into the park did little to prepare us for the magnificent view that would unfold before us. The high vantage point overlooking the Thames estuary, makes Sandpit Hill an ideal observation post.

Historically this site has played an important strategic role in defense and the World War II gun emplacements and ancillary buildings which are scattered about the site both above and below ground are evidence of this.

The development of the Olympic Mountain Bike Course for 2012 and the more recent adaptations of the trails have added another layer to this complex terrain. In contrast to these man-made interventions are the earth burrows and nests created by some of the park’s invertebrates such as the Shrill Carder Bee.

Our idea to create an underground camera obscura evolved from all these observations and the desire to harness this amazing view and reveal it in an unexpected way.

The shell of the camera obscura is constructed from a 3.5 metre long by 2.6 wide Weholite pipe identical to those used in the nearby bike trails. This has been embedded into the side of hill and positioned to face out towards the estuary and can be accessed via a path which leads down off the main trail on Sandpit Hill. The front has been faced with durable oak and the ash lined interior houses a seat and space for around 4 people. The lens of the camera obscura is fixed within the door which needs to be closed in order to dim the light and focus the view onto the back wall of the tunnel.

The Reveal has been designed to be accessible for wheelchair users and provides the visitor with a contemplative space in which to rest and experience the world in a different way. It reflects whatever is outside so will by its nature always be changing.

Developing ideas

Over the last few months we have had lots of ideas for the work we want to make for Mottisfont, sparked by the workshops with our co-creative group and the conversations with Mottisfont staff and volunteers.  Observing the changes in the gardens and the way people move through the grounds has also had a big influence on the way our ideas have been developing.

As Elvis Costello once sung – it was a good year for the roses.  Visitor numbers reached record levels as the roses reached their peak and we queued up with visitors to file past the blooms. The crowds are great for business yet they also put stress on the infrastructure of Mottisfont. The need to preserve and maintain is in contrast to the drive to attract new audiences; it is at these busy times when this tension becomes most apparent.  The illusion can be so easily broken.

Our ideas have grown from this observation – initially how to preserve part of this rose garden so it could be viewed at all times of the year and continue to attract visitors even in the winter months when visitor numbers are much lower.  Our request to pick and preserve 1800 roses to recreate an eternal rose garden was not possible, but the seed of an idea was planted and is now beginning to crystallise.

Over August we have been working in our studio making models and trying out ideas for our final installation which will involve creating one or more mirrored chambers to create an infinite landscape and garden. We will be making this for one or two of the loose boxes in the stable block and will be installing this during late September and October.

Infinity Garden Room test 1 copy
Model for infinity room

Running parallel to this will be an installation in the Piscina (old bookshop), which is near the cafe in the main house.  Over the residency period our co-creative group of U3A’s and Winchester School of Art students and graduates have been developing their own work in response to Mottisfont. It has been fascinating to see how each person has responded to the brief and to see the magic of Mottisfont as a place for creative inspiration have its effect.

There are so many layers to this place and it’s not surprising that this is reflected in some of the work that has been produced so far.  Cole – a recent graduate has been developing some work using layers of glass sheets and drawing with smoke.  We have had a poetic response to the Great Plane Tree by Anna and some beautiful watercolours of vistas around Mottisfont from Sandi and Cynthia from the U3A’s and other diverse responses are still forming.  Over the coming weeks we will be working together to display all of this work in the old bookshop.

Our preference is to set this up as a creative laboratory of ideas and responses rather than as an exhibition of artworks.  All through our residency we have wanted to embrace the idea of the story-scapes of Mottisfont and that the resulting installations reflect this.  We are really looking forward to seeing this all come together in the next month or so.