Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Improbability Calculator

I thought I might share some thoughts on an artwork from the archives namely the Improbability Calculator dating from 1993. The piece was made one or two years after I stopped making single screen work and was the beginning of a search for an expanded cinema, an expanded cinema that does away with the more traditional lens based apparatus of camera, projector and so on.

The piece was inspired by a cycle ride home. Coming down the hill from Forest Hill towards Catford there is a sharp bend in the road just by the Quaker Meeting House, rounding the corner one night I saw some road works just ahead. The hole in the road was surrounded by an assortment of red and white barriers and flashing amber lamps. The lamps were dotted about haphazardly, some had fallen over and were lying on the ground, a few were broken. As the lamps flashed on and off, an illusion was temporarily created that the light was moving from one lamp to another. The direction of movement was not uniform, but rather random and yet still purposeful. Stopping to pick up one of the broken lamps I mused that this was the complicit illusion I had been looking for. In other words one could simultaneously see and, see through the illusion.

The circuit driving the flashing lamp turned out to be nothing more than a couple of transistors and a resistor and capacitor. As there was a Maplin store just yards from the road works getting some similar components and building a number of replica circuits proved to be quite easy. For a while I considered an alternative possibility of simply buying a job lot of the same type of lamps and simply recreating the street scene. Sculpturally there was (and still is) something quite appealing about this (readymade) option but the fake literalism seems inherently problematic (see yesterday¹s blog on the remade readymade).

Around this time I met with a number of artists each week in a café at Loughborough Junction, this was a good old greasy spoon last decorated in the early 1960's. On the counter were always two rows of upturned white cups. Cups would be taken off for the serving of regulation strong tea, but then replaced with clean ones so that the rows never seemed to really increase or decrease. The idea came to collide the "everyday" minimalist arrangement of the cups with the lights.

Procuring some white opaque glass cups I laid them out in two rows and placed the bulbs underneath. As the cups were much closer together than the original road lamps the illusion of movement was stronger but still see though. There was also a pleasing tension between the simple formality of the arrangement and the unpredictable movement of the light from cup to cup. The complexity of the patterns reminded one somewhat of a computer performing some endless calculation. It also tied in nicely with those back street tricks one sees all over Europe (except for some reason in the UK) where a ball is moved quickly between three upturned cups with hapless punters betting on its likely final location.

The piece was shown originally in the Vestry with the cups laid out on a trolley. The work had a second outing as part of a light based show in Nottingham with the cups arranged on a table. The illustration here is an animated GIF with a small number of frames so unlike the piece itself the pattern repeats quite quickly but it is an illustration