Close Encounters of the Art Kind: www, by Langlands & Bell
In 2002 Colin Painter recruited a variety of six contemporary sculptors and, through Brecknock Primary School NW1, a variety of six households – staff (teaching and non-teaching), parents and grandparents.
For six months, work by each sculptor was rotated round these homes. The householders lived with each for a month, siting them as they wished in relation to their own possessions. In the interests of spontaneity they were not told the artists’ names nor the titles of the works. The artists had no knowledge of the homes involved.
Below are the commentaries on one of these sculptures, www., by Langlands & Bell.
Langlands & Bell
'It’s a three dimensional line drawing. It appears abstract, until you realise it refers to something actual – the airline connections between cities around the world. We like its quality of an abstract, seemingly chaotic drawing which is actually grounded in the reality of a strict system.
'It’s transparent and it’s floating. You can walk around it and get that sense of suspension – of looking into another world. Yet it’s a mobile object – it’s small and very portable.
'Diagrams and maps are templates of circulation. Flight paths are established routes. It’s a diagram of intent – literally a plan, much like a building plan.
'It’s an image of enablement but also constraint. It’s an image of freedom, and one of order and containment. It’s an image of global community and one of isolation.
'Air routes are driven by the exchange of goods and services, financial exchange, global systems of production and consumption. That’s the overriding character of the system. You consume as an individual. When you exchange it’s more collective. It’s an image of both, a juxtaposition – that’s the paradox.
'Our work is a journey of discovery. Sometimes our art is a record of our learning about what inspired us to make it. We’re fascinated by the image of the air routes, and we’ve tried to find out why by re-making them ourselves. We’ve made them in many different ways. We’re throwing light on something that has attracted our attention – unravelling it, putting it back together, and at the same time amplifying it.'
Beeban, Spencer, Noah & Blaze
Beeban: 'Noah walked up to it and said, "Mummy, the whole world’s in the glass!" I was thrilled because I’d thought the same thing about it. It made me conscious of my pleasure at feeling the same as someone else. Maybe that’s just a sort of pack animal instinct. Perhaps one of the difficult things about modern art is that people so clearly disagree about it – emphasis is placed on work being original, different. I think the pleasure in sharing the same responses with others is a very human thing.'
Spencer: 'This piece seems to have been designed by an artist and made by a machine. I respond to it because I see a visual and philosophical depth in it but I think the question of designed art is interesting. Where does the artist’s involvement begin and end? Does the artist actually have to touch the work? I like the fact that it obviously uses technology to push boundaries to present something in a very new form. That must be a lot of fun to do.
'It poses the question of how it was created – like a ship in a bottle or a pear I once saw in a bottle of wine. But this has more depth. It seems to me to be a physical manifestation of a certain scientific magic. I think pieces like this need a peaceful setting. Only once have I had the opportunity of enjoying it quietly and thoughtfully – really exploring the magic behind it.'
Beeban: 'Scale is very significant in the home. This is easy to live with – and very easy to ignore. It’s possible to love something and ignore it. Something on the wall commands a space that nothing else occupies but this piece can be lost among lots of other objects on a mantelpiece or shelf. I would like this to be enormous so that I could live inside it.'
Spencer: 'I see it as air routes round the world, which is why the lines are not evenly distributed and there are blank areas where no scheduled flights occur.'
Beeban: 'That’s a fascinating idea, showing where everything’s crowded and where there are spaces. We can overestimate the extent to which technologies have connected populations round the world. I read somewhere recently that three quarters of the people in India have never heard of America. We over emphasise the importance of our little blob. There is a sense in which this piece might be a testament to the forgotten. There are billions of people on the planet who are completely forgotten. The world we live in is not changing as fast as we sometimes think.'
Gareth, Olwen & Rhiannon
Gareth: It’s like spun sugar in the cube. But then you see something else – like the shape of a skull almost. It’s fascinating, I see different things every time I look at it. I love the shape of the cube itself. When I was at school I used to do geometry and I used to love drawing three dimensional diagrams of rooms and boxes to show the inside as well as the outside – ambiguous boxes I suppose. And that’s what you can see here.
Olwen: It’s intriguing – a geometric challenge or an optical illusion... I’m curious to know the mechanics of it. It’s sort of playing around with space isn’t it? You look at the web inside from another angle and it’s filling the space in a totally different way. There’s nothing definite about it. It’s random. Sometimes it looks as though it has expanded... sometimes it’s on the surface.
Gareth: You wonder if it’s hollow with the tracery floating free inside or if it’s solid with the tracery carved out of it. From some angles it looks like constellations of stars.
Olwen: I wonder why the web isn’t a complete sphere.
Rhiannon: It’s as if you were doing art in a science lesson.
Olwen: Yes, geometry and science… reflections, prisms, mirrors. You try to define shapes but they elude you. In a way it’s funny to talk of it as science or geometry – because the one thing you can’t really do with it is measure it. Your perception of it changes all the time. What would you be measuring? It defies strict measurement. It’s like looking at a goldfish suspended in water.
Rhiannon: In geography at school we had a world, a globe, that was all divided up in little lines – the North hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere....
Gareth: I think it was made by a man because it’s so square and regular, even though the bit in the middle is higgledy piggledy.
Rhiannon: I think it was a woman. I’ve got nothing against men but this is very delicate....
Lynn, Dot, Michelle, Stephanie & Jordan
Dot: It’s extremely beautiful and very delicate. It’s like a spider’s web. The netting inside reminds me of pictures we used to have hanging on the wall of our house in Highgate. They were made of string – criss-crossed over a black background.
Lynn: It is very beautiful and yet at the same time it reminds me of a horror film called Hellraiser. In the film there is a very similar cube and little cubes come out of it. If you actually look along this cube several other smaller ones appear within it. Though the film was horrific the sculpture is not. I feel very positive with it around. I’ve been doing more exams and I’ve had the sculpture on my desk. When I’m having to think I can look into it and my thoughts flow freely and clearly.
Maggie & Sylvester
Maggie: 'This seems to me to be in competition with a lot of similar things currently available in crystal blocks. At the Dome there was a souvenir of the Dome in a glass block. In our home it can’t be seen to advantage. It needs a very bare space – the sort of homes you see in the Sunday supplements – places with hardly any furniture and great big windows. It would be alright there on a coffee table with nothing else.'
Sylvester: 'This is the sort of thing you might find in an expensive gift shop or on the chairman’s desk at corporate headquarters. It seems very pretty, intriguing, high quality – but not immediately challenging. Looking at it carefully I guess it shows international flight routes with many more nodes in the northern than in the southern hemisphere. If I am right, it is a bit more interesting than I thought at first. The globe defined by human movement – but what does this say about us?'
Mari & Michael
Mari: 'When I saw it I thought of Leonardo’s man in a square and a circle – a picture my Dad has in my home in Cardiff. It demonstrates how man can be explained mathematically and scientifically. Even aesthetically pleasing shapes – the seeming beauty of the human body – have order and explanation. The same with this, precise but beautiful… It’s pretty – sharp, clear and light. It’s also mysterious – how it’s done.
It’s fitted in well in the house and it reflects things – taking in what’s around it. If you moved it from place to place, there would always be something different about it. It reflects the garden, the room and you. Everybody who visits wants to touch it.'
Michael: 'I don’t want to touch it. There’s enough to do with your eyes without having to rely on another sense. You’ve got this well-ordered cube, which is perfectly structured, neat and tidy, and then inside you’ve got absolute chaos. Within the cube there’s a sphere which is interesting in itself, but within it as well you’ve got all these reflections that make it look chaotic. It’s that contrast between structure and chaos that makes it interesting.'
Mari: 'My Mum collects paperweights. It’s a bit like one of those but in reverse, because you normally have a spherical paperweight with things inside it. I’ve spent ages wondering what the things inside are really like because they look different from different angles, through different faces. This has got that new age crystal thing – people staring into crystals.'
Michael: 'It constantly asks questions – in different locations, different lights, different angles. People are fascinated by things like that – like halls of mirrors in fair grounds. It’s part of that tradition although it’s very modern looking.'
Mari: 'It looks precious. I have the feeling you get at the edge of a cliff. Though you’re not contemplating jumping, the thought comes into your head – what if you did? How close are you to the edge? I get a similar feeling with this – what if I dropped it on the floor?'
Friday, 27 October. 2.00pm. A finely etched sphere appears suspended within the cube. The network of the sphere is incomplete, allowing an inner and outer view. Silver, spidery threads drawn/swung out from points within the sphere measure a space and energy – within a tennis ball, for example, but no bounce; just semi-circular motion.
Wednesday, 1 November. 6.40pm. Are lines etched from a needle on a pendulum swinging inside? Am I looking at a magnified image? Still can’t find pattern to web. It’s a conundrum.
Thursday, 30 November. Why is this web in a cube? I am now more interested in the space that the web is frozen in than the web itself. Perhaps it is comments and information I have received from other viewers? I am irritated by small scale of cube. Trying to enlarge in my mind. I am still looking into uncompleted area of web – definitely the most interesting aspect for me. It’s difficult to identify with. It’s not that I don’t like it. It does look good on the light box. The light lifts it up. There is a sense of awe and wonder about it as you would experience looking through a piece of crystal – patterns, reflections… It’s beautiful but it’s been difficult to become fond of it. Maybe I’m looking for something emotional about it. I want to identify emotionally – ‘I understand that’, or ‘I know how that is’, or ‘I know that feeling’... Some feeling of recognition… I think it’s a great work of design and technology rather than art. There’s no evidence of anything human about it.
Written to accompany the exhibition Close Encounters of the Art Kind.