Aurelian Labyrinth: Proposed model, mixed media. 2010.
Aurelian Labyrinth: Model on a stand during an exhibition at South London Gallery. 2011.
Aurelian Labyrinth: detail of the model showing the back of Michael Faraday personified as Mercury. 2011.
Aurelian Labyrinth: Proposal drawing for the transformation of a secret garden at 69 Peckham road in South London 2005.
Aurelian Labyrinth: Pigment print, 53 x 35 in., edition: 30. 2011. See print
1 - 5
ABOUT AURELIAN LABYRINTH (2010-2011)
A spectacular find was bestowed upon Benjamin Wilkes as he walked down Cool Arbour Lane near Camberwell in mid-August 1748: he spotted a pair of the scarcest butterflies in England, feasting on a willow tree, Initially called the Willow Butterfly and later renamed the Camberwell Beauty by Moses Harris.
An Aurelian Labyrinth is a proposal to construct a labyrinth from a field of genetically modified pansies aping the appearance of the Camberwell Beauty. It consists of four major elements: the Canopy, the Pansy Field, the Faraday memorial, and the Copper Trumpet playing an adapted score by Johann Sebastian Bach. The garden will be planted with grasses and other wild plants to resemble more closely an overrun meadow.
A specially arranged score, for a horn quartet, based on Bach’s Kleines Harmonisches Labyrinth, 1750, is instrumental in producing a detailed machine-cut labyrinth over a three-month period. The title refers to its deceptive harmonic structure, to the number of modulations to different keys, and to the enharmonics, which could belong to a number of different keys and have a different function in each of those keys, thereby leading to momentary confusion for the listener as to the overall direction of the harmonic structure.
Adjacent to the canopy stands a scale model of Michael Faraday’s Memorial constructed from copper; Faraday, perhaps Camberwell’s most important inhabitant, was born in Newington Butts, the site of the second recorded sighting of a pair of Camberwell Beauties. Faraday’s most significant contribution was his discovery of electromagnetic induction; he used his discovery to build the first dynamo. Faraday’s work laid the foundation for the identification of light as an electromagnetic phenomenon and lead to the employment of electromagnetic waves in communication.
Above the copper memorial stands a plaster cast of the Greek god Mercury, lord of thought, messenger, and conductor of souls. This majestic god, metaphorically assuming the role as Faraday, has an unusual copper winding around his torso and other fleshy outcrops, functioning as a transformer. With his gaze directed to the pansy field, he silently amasses a formidable electric charge over the project’s three-month duration, being randomly primed by an uneven flagstone trampled by unsuspecting visitors as they enter the secret garden.
The music will trigger the canopy gantry to begin skirting the surface of the pansy field, misting the pansies with water vapor. This high-speed dance creates a vapor trail labyrinth, ending in the centre of the pansy field. As the musicians close the initial performance a short pause is followed by a cacophonic aberration, as the musicians start the composition again, but in a different time signature. The canopy gantry repositions itself, and the cutter head begins nibbling the labyrinth in the pansy field. The petal residue is vacuumed up into a standing borosilicate glass gland in the canopy; over the course of the exhibition pigment is extracted from the petals in a solution of alcohol. The performance ends as the cutter head reaches the labyrinth’s center.
On subsequent days, for three months, the recording is played through the copper horn: first the complete score accompanied by the vapor dance, then a fifteen minute rendition of the slowed down score accompanied by the meticulous trimming of the labyrinth.
A final performance at dusk, four musicians again play the complete score. An arm holding the sphere containing the residue of the petal trimmings, begins to trickle the rich reddish-purple dye over the head of Mercury, transforming the pearly surface of the sculpture into a Camberwell Beauty.
The energy accumulated over three months in the base of the copper memorial is suddenly released, electrically exciting the glass vacuum held in Mercury’s raised arm, causing it to glow the familiar hue of the Camberwell Beauty, illuminating the passages of the labyrinth where the misty vapor trail still lingers. This is a fleeting moment, almost subliminal; as the music finishes so does this brief illumination with the dye-bedecked Mercury remaining as a memory of the event.