2012 - Greenwich Degree Zero
© the artists. Greenwich Degree Zero, 2005-6
Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy: Greenwich Degree Zero
Hayward Project Space
17 Nov 2012 - 6 Jan 2013
On the afternoon of February 15th, 1894, a French anarchist named Martial Bourdin was killed when the bomb he was carrying detonated. The explosion took place on the slope beneath the Royal Observatory in London's Greenwich Park, and it was generally assumed that his intention had been to blow up this building. Lying on the First Meridian, at exactly zero degrees longitude, the Observatory was a prominent public building, the place from which all time throughout the British Empire and the world was measured and regulated.
Nonetheless, the exact nature and motivation of Bourdin's act remained unclear. Some rejected the idea that he had been trying to destroy the Observatory. An alternative theory suggested he had been transporting the explosive to a safe hiding place after the Autonomie Club, a rendezvous for migr? European anarchists, were placed under police surveillance. Many left-wingers believed he had been duped into killing himself by a double-agent working for the police, who wanted to instigate an outrage in order to help the passage of Lord Salisbury's Aliens Bill (which urged a tightening of asylum laws) through Parliament.
In Greenwich Degree Zero, Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy re-imagine Bourdin's act as a successful attack on the Observatory. They do so by infiltrating and twisting the media of Bourdin's time, reproducing newspaper reports re-worked to fit their version of events and presenting a film (made with a hand-cranked Victorian cinematic camera) capturing the moment of the Observatory's destruction, together with photographic images of the building's ruins. By means of such devices, they relate history to the processes, institutions and technologies through which it is both represented and interpreted. Greenwich DegreeZero reports an event that did not quite happen, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction and relocating the genuine public outrage and hysteria about the threat of anarchist terror that prevailed in the 1890s in this ambiguous space of non-event. The symbolism of the Greenwich Observatory as the centre, or zero degree of global space and time, is key to this elaborate reconstruction.
Greenwich Degree Zero is the first collaboration between artist Rod Dickinson and artist/novelist Tom McCarthy. Its showing at the Hayward Project Space coincides with a Doomsday prediction emanating from observatories in ancient Mesoamerica. According to the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the date 188.8.131.52, which corresponds to 21st December 2012, marks the end of an era, resetting the date to zero.
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