Projects / Art Works

Greenwich Degree Zero (2006)

Greenwich Degree Zero, 2005-6, Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy

Dimensions Variable, Aprox 10m x 12m, Mixed media


Greenwich Degree Zero is an installation of recreated 19th century media (newspapers, news clippings, pamphlets, early film, photographs and map) that fictionalised reports of a real attempted bombing of Greenwich Observatory in 1894.

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 0 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.

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 extant 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 and photographic images depicting the building's ruins tying history inextricably to the processes, institutions and technologies through which it is both represented and interpreted.

The piece comprises of a video projection, a series of purpose lit, purpose built tables and reading trestles on which the print media is displayed and a video presented on a monitor with headphones.

The whole installation is silent (bar the audio on the headphones) and designed to resemble an archive or reading room.

Greenwich Degree Zero is a work about mediation and repetition, interrogating the notion of 'event' by retrieving an occurrence which did not quite take place from its event-degree zero while still holding it in the negative space of non-event.

Greenwich Degree Zero is a Beaconsfield Commission

Review Snippet:

On February 15, 1894 Britain experienced its first 'international' (ie non-Irish) terrorist incident A French anarchist named Martial Bourdin set off a bomb at the foot of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich; his mutilated body was found, close to death, a few feet away from the meridian line. The explosion started a fire which all but destroyed the observatory itself. Actually this last detail is untrue: the building was untouched, Bourdin himself was the only casualty. In 'Greenwich Degree Zero' Rod Dickinson & Tom McCarthy replay this forgotten snippet of history, inserting the more satisfying, incendiary backdrop to the anarchist's self-immolation. In an installation which consists largely of newspaper front pages from the time, subtly doctored to suit their alternative version of events, together with anarchist pamphlets, maps, artefacts and official papers relating to the case, all presented neatly for one's perusal upon rows of desks with the unreal and random quality of a Google image search, the artists construct a meditation on the mass-mediated nature of reality. Such reality forms an axis around which revolve conspiracy theory, symbolic action and spectacle...

...This is a wordy exhibition reflecting a wordy period. The dense columns of newspaper text may lack the pictures and enormous headlines that command the space of our own dailies, but they conform to a familiar moral indignation and the fall-back defence of nation and the social status quo. It is this automatic reaction of the news media which then decisively collides with political power in an emotional frenzy that justifies the view that the media is less a reflection of the world than the primary operator within it, less a mirror than a hammer, or a trigger...

..It is, of course, the symbolism of the Greenwich Observatory as the centre, or zero degree of global space and time that is key to this elaborate reconstruction. Dickinson & McCarthy seem to view Bourdin's curious self-annihilation next to the meridian as an irresistible metaphor for the loss of historical reality in an age of mediated events. Happily, they also provide us with what their accumulated newsprint conspicuously fails to offer: an image. Hovering above the grid of desks on the far wall, shaky film footage of the Greenwich Observatory ablaze repeats on a loop. A nervous man in a top hat stands with his back to the camera surveying the scene. Maybe he is the mysterious agent provocateur embodying this altogether impossible shot - a kind of primal scene of what was once more confidently designated by the term postmodermity.

Dean Kenning, Art Monthly, April 2006 pp31-32